Character Flaws vs. Weaknesses

Yesterday I went had an interesting discussion with a fellow writer friend of mine. I talked about how I was reading a book called “Take Off Your Pants” by Libbie Hawker. Within the first few chapters, Libbie lays out the foundation for building a character arc and how to make an outline for a book. I am and always have been sort of anti-outlining. But I thought that any help or discussion on the topic could be potentially useful, so I picked it up thinking that there could always be something to learn.

The topic of a character flaw is very heavily discussed in the beginning of the book, and how a flaw is what makes a character sympathetic. My instant reaction to this statement was one of doubt. I have found in many instances that when a character has a fatal ‘flaw’, or the hero of a fantasy is significantly ‘flawed’, it makes me want to hurt the character more than sympathize with them. The whole fool me once, shame on me thing comes to mind. Because characters who repeatedly make the same mistakes because of a fatal flaw do nothing but irritate me.

I started to wonder if the character in my current novel has a fatal flaw. And the answer was no. But she has weaknesses. Certain things that cause her to fail. Not because she’s stupid or she has some awful personality quirk, but because she doesn’t always have things figured out. She hits road block after road block not because she is incapable of thinking, but because she is residing in a world that is constantly trying to beat her down. She refuses to give up hope, and it’s this hope that drives her to do things. It’s also what causes things to happen in the story. Because without that hope, she would give up and there would be no story. And nothing is supposedly worse than a character who doesn’t “protag”.

So here is my basic question/observation…Does a character really need a fatal flaw? Or a big flaw in general? As my writer friend said to me last night, her characters are just human. And humans make mistakes through trying and experiencing. I would like to think that I don’t have a HUGE flaw and that I just stumble occasionally. If anything, a fatal flaw makes a character a little less realistic. Because how many times can your character make the same mistakes or behave in the same way before they just become completely unsympathetic for a lack of common sense or a lack of being able to connect the dots.

My behavior/reaction caused this = (sometimes after a few tries) maybe don’t do that thing again. Otherwise I might throw a book across the room because the character is obviously not learning anything.

Food for thought.

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