Character flaw

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In the creation and criticism of fictional works, a character flaw is a limitation, imperfection, problem, phobia, or deficiency present in a character who may be otherwise very functional. The flaw can be a problem that directly affects the character's actions and abilities, such as a violent temper. Alternatively, it can be a simple foible or personality defect, which affects the character's motives and social interactions, but little else.

Flaws can add depth and humanity to the characters in a narrative. For example, the sheriff with a gambling addiction, the action hero who is afraid of heights, or a lead in a romantic comedy who must overcome his insecurity regarding male pattern baldness are all characters whose flaws help provide dimension. Perhaps the most widely cited and classic of character flaws is Achilles' famous heel.

In general, flaws can be categorized as minor, major, or tragic.

Minor flaw[edit]

A minor character flaw is an imperfection which serves to distinguish the character in the mind of the reader / viewer / player / listener, making them memorable and individual, but otherwise does not affect the story in any way.

Examples of this could include a noticeable scar, a thick accent or a habit such as cracking their knuckles.

Protagonists and other major characters may (and usually do) have multiple minor flaws, making them more accessible, and enabling the reader / viewer / listener to relate to the character (in the case of a sympathetic character) or otherwise influence the audience's opinions of the character.

Many insignificant or archetypal characters which are encountered only once or rarely are defined solely by a single minor flaw, differentiating them from the stock character or archetype that they adhere to.

Major flaw[edit]

A major character flaw is a much more noticeable and important hindrance which actually impairs the individual, whether physically, mentally or morally. Sometimes major flaws are not actually negative per se (such as devout religious beliefs or a rigid code of honor), but are classified as such in that they often serve to hinder or restrict the character in some way.

Examples of this type of flaw could include blindness, amnesia or greed.

Unlike minor flaws, major flaws are almost invariably important to either the character's, or the story's development.

  • For villains, their major flaw is usually the cause of their eventual downfall.
  • For heroes, their major flaw usually must be overcome (either temporarily or permanently) at some point in the story, often at the climax, by their own determination or skill.
  • For neutral characters, or those that shift allegiance, the major flaw is usually the cause of either their corruption, redemption or both.
  • For the protagonist, the most visible flaw generally serves a more vital interest, as well, as it defines his or her core problem. It is the protagonist's reluctant (and usually unconscious) journey to address this problem that forms the spine of the story, sometimes acting as the MacGuffin to stimulate the plot.

Tragic flaw[edit]

This is a specific sort of flaw, also known as "Hamartia", which is possessed by Aristotelian tragic heros. It is a flaw which causes an otherwise noble or exceptional character to bring about his own downfall and, often, his eventual death.

Examples of this could include hubris, misplaced trust, excessive curiosity, pride and lack of self-control.

This fall usually occurs at the beginning of a story, with the story itself concentrates on the consequences or attempted redemption of the fall.

Examples[edit]

Literature[edit]

Film[edit]

Television[edit]

Gaming[edit]

  • In Warhammer 40,000, the Primarch Lorgar Aurelian is extremely devout and reveres his "father", the Emperor of Mankind, as a god. The Emperor envisages a human civilization free of the shackles of religion and dogma and chastises Lorgar and his legion for worshipping him. Hurt and depressed by the humiliation of his father's rebuke, Lorgar and the Space Marines of the XVII Legion (the "Word Bearers") search for another purpose to sustain them, and in doing so become the first legion to fall under the malicious influence of Chaos. Their devotion to Chaos sees them instigate the devastating civil war known as the Horus Heresy, the events of which lead to the current dystopian setting of Warhammer 40,000.
  • In Metal Gear Solid, Liquid's jealousy of Solid Snake's "dominant genes" and his desire to be the better of the two sets much of the story in motion, leading to Liquid's eventual downfall.