What comes to mind when you think “interesting character flaws”?
Because some flaws are more compelling than others. And some are easier to forgive. Some, on the other hand, make the characters who have them instantly unlikable.
They’re monsters. They’re unforgivable. They could never change for the better.
But sometimes, they do. Given a list of character flaws, could you pick one of the worst and create a character with a convincing redemption arc?
What could you do differently with one of the flaws listed below? And what makes them flaws in the first place?
Four Types of Character Flaws
Look at any list of character flaws, and what do they have in common?
Obviously some faults are worse than others. Think of any memorable protagonist and you can probably remember the flaw or flaws that made you care about them. Or think of the flaws that made a particular antagonist so easy to dislike.
But did you know there are four different types of character flaws?
For this post, we’re dividing the flaws a bit differently, since any of the above could be separated according to the following criteria:
Any of these could result from either a painful experience or, in some cases, heredity. Some are more likely to be a result of a character’s environment. All can materially affect a character’s well-being and relationships in various ways.
Even the most forgivable flaws can make a character’s life (or someone else’s) more difficult than otherwise. Think of the character whose clumsiness results in a lethally botched science experiment.
Just imagine where each flaw could lead, and let your mind explore the possibilities.
List of 155 Character Flaws For Authors
Good Character Flaws
Some character flaws are more endearing or forgivable than others. Think of “flaws” that people think up during job interviews when they’re asked, “So, what’s your biggest flaw?”
Or think of flaws that your friends might have tht maybe make their lives more difficult than necessary — but they don’t make you think, “This (friendship) isn’t going to work.”
Any of the following could become serious problems, if not corrected. But some, in certain circumstances, can actually be an asset.
1. Obsessed with details (often described as “anal” but undeterred by that)
2. Paranoid or suspicious of others (without apparent reason)
3. Pokes fun at others but doesn’t discriminate (and even roasts themselves)
4. Swears excessively (but will 100% have your back)
5. Drinks too much sometimes and is (or could be) an alcoholic — but not abusive
6. Checks themselves out in the mirror too much (obseessed with their appearance)
7. Indecisive even about the smallest things (think Chidi from The Good Place)
8. Perfectionist — everything with their stamp on it has to be perfect
9. Tactless when sharing bad news or criticism but honest and without malice
10. Meddles in other people’s business without consent (busybody)
11. Terrible sense of direction (gets lost in a phonebooth)
12. Uses baby voice to talk to animals, kids, and/or spouse or partner
13. Smokes but is always trying to quit — or smokes with zero intention of quitting
14. Eats mostly junkfood (fast food, soda, salty or sugary processed snacks, etc.)
15. Is always trying to get people to join their MLM business
16. Not very bright (but has other redeeming qualities)
17. Clueless when it comes to social cues, but intelligent and resourceful
18. Tends to avoid people (expects rejection or betrayal)
19. Maxes out credit cards buying things for others
20. Tells entertaining but mostly fabricated stories about themselves
21. Sees red and confronts every bully they see (might literally tackle them)
22. Obsesses over their ex (still in love with them)
23. Is crazy superstitious about things like salt, mirrors, etc.
24. Steals from the rich and gives it to people they consider more deserving of it
25. Uses their hacking skills to mess with crooked public figures
26. Is always dating people who hurt them or let them down
27. Is always trying to be someone else in order to belong somewhere
28. Cries about everything (and they don’t know why)
29. Laughs about everything (and they don’t know why)
30. Has extreme social anxiety and is terrified of social gatherings
31. Has their eyes glued to their phone or tablet all the time
32. Has a tendency to finish other people’s sentences (and is usually right)
33. Keeps taking in stray animals in spite of spouse’s/partner’s objections
34. Is regularly being scammed out of their money by charlatans
35. Uses marijuana and sells it at discount to people they know who are suffering
36. Lives like an animal but is quick to offer shelter to those who need it
37. Continually makes the mistake of trusting those who are quick to judge them
38. Always cooking for others — but their cooking is terrible
39. Always running themselves into the ground to help others
40. Repeatedly invests in money-making schemes that fail
41. Votes without knowing crucial (and accessible) information about the candidates
42. Has a volatile temper but quickly comes down from it and always apologizes
43. Is good in a crisis — but terrible with day-to-day sameness
44. Always late because they keep running into people they feel compelled to check on
45. Spoiled and extremely picky about food but genuinely cares about others
46. Keeps their illness a secret (until it’s too late) to avoid worrying people
47. Lives in a world of their own making but is a brilliant storyteller
48. Extremely accident-prone / klutzy / clumsy
49. Discriminates against rich people (reverse snobbery)
50. Sexually promiscuous — but kind to all (except themselves, perhaps)
51. Has ridiculously high standards (to avoid committing to anyone)
52. Lacks self-confidence and is constantly seeking validation
53. A disease that slowly erodes mental capacity — like Alzheimer’s, LBD, etc.
54. Fearful and easily intimidated but loyal to loved ones
55. Constantly deprecating themselves but telling others not to do the same
56. Compulsive gambler but always trying to quit
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Negative Character Flaws
Think of the kinds of flaws you wouldn’t ever want to see in someone you care about. These are the flaws that destroy relationships — even when one of the people involved really wants it to work.
Any one of these could make your antagonist easy to write off as an irredeemable lowlife or, at the very least, a menace to all around them.
But you might just take one of these, give it to a character, and lead them in a completely unexpected direction.
1. Cruel or abusive to animals
2. Physically and/or verbally abusive to their spouse or partner (domestic abuser)
3. Racist — openly or otherwise (e.g., a closeted racist who betrays or undermines his non-white coworkers)
4. Sexist or misogynistic (expects rewards for pretending to take women seriously)
5. Homophobic — openly or otherwise (justifies discriminating against non-straight people)
6. Sexually predatory toward children (pedophiles)
7. Profits off trafficking children or teenagers
8. Two-faced — pretends to be on one person’s side while betraying them to another
9. Pushes smoking or drugs on children
10. Hyper-controlling of spouse and/or children (or anyone they can control)
11. Belittles everyone who disagrees with them as intellectually/morally inferior
12. Vindictive — always looking for ways to punish those who offend them
13. Needing to be the center of attention and hating anyone who steals the spotlight
14. Hypocritical (religious or otherwise)
15. Takes advantage of others’ kindness (bleeds them dry)
16. Lacking in professional ethics (will do anything to get ahead)
17. Quick to rage over the slightest perceived offense (loud, insulting, abusive)
18. Lazy and unwilling to help others — yet expects others to drop everything for them
19. Sexually predatory toward vulnerable women or teenagers
20. Always has to win — at everything (and is a poor loser when they don’t)
21. Emotionally unsupportive of (or detached from) friends and family
22. Disrespectful and insulting to subordinates (elitist)
23. Lying all the time (as easily as breathing and nearly as often)
24. Tight-fisted and lacking in generosity — despite being wealthy
25. Quick to criticize others but quickly enraged by criticism
26. Self-righteous and quick to judge those who don’t follow their example
27. Fabricates and spreads nasty rumors about others (out of spite)
28. Talks over people, constantly interrupts them, and rarely listens
29. Constantly cheats on their spouse or partner (because they “have needs”)
30. Pretentious and vain (needing to be seen as successful/cool/desirable)
31. Financially irresponsible and in massive debt
32. Is an abusive alcoholic or drug addict, using others to get their next fix
33. Gets physically destructive when angry (damaging property)
34. Easily provoked to violent outbursts and physical abuse (repeat abuser)
35. Makes passive-aggressive insults (to avoid confrontation while getting their digs in)
36. Always believes the worst about people (assumes the worst and rants about it)
37. Enjoys embarrassing or humiliating others
38. Enjoys scaring others for their own entertainment
39. Uses their size and position to bully and/or manipulate others
40. Constantly nags others and verbally abuses them
41. Constantly complains and plays the victim
42. Doesn’t think rationally (their emotions are the only law they care about)
43. Behaves rudely toward retail and service workers (bc elitism or just bad manners)
44. Holds a grudge over the smallest offenses (they’d “rather go to hell” than forgive)
45. Preys on the weakest and most vulnerable to scam / defraud them
46. Makes offensive “jokes” about anyone different from themselves
47. Cheats and uses others to get ahead
48. Gaslights anyone who challenges them
49. Reckless behind the wheel (of anything — literally or figuratively)
50. Refuses to forgive (even in response to a genuine apology)
51. Keeps breaking promises to spouse or partner and/or kids
52. Convinced they are always right (and anyone who disagrees is an idiot)
53. Incapable of acknowledging their own faults (and quick to gaslight those who do)
54. Brags all the time about their accomplishments while criticizing others
55. Has an unquenchable lust for power
56. Easily becomes jealous and possessive
57. Insatiably greedy — hoards money, possessions, luxuries…
58. Never content with what they have (always wanting what others have)
59. Cowardly and inclined to bully those they consider weaker than themselves
60. Vengeful — can’t let go of their desire for revenge
Physical Character Flaws
Physical character flaws are those related to a character’s appearance. Some are flaws they can’t fix (immediately or ever) but that materially affect their fortunes and relationships, no matter how hard they might work to compensate for them.
Some are more easily fixable, but the characters either don’t notice them, don’t care to fix them, or hold onto them for reasons unknown to others (and possibly themselves).
For some characters, it becomes the catalyst for a negative arc, while for others, it’s the cocoon that keeps them hidden until their metamorphosis is complete.
1. Terrible hygiene (greasy hair, strong body odor, etc.)
2. Poor eyesight (blind or nearly blind), requiring thick glasses
3. Scars on the face from serious burns
4. Missing fingers from a work injury
5. Paralysis (paraplegia or quadriplegia)
6. Hunched back or twisted spine
7. Amputated arm/s or leg/s
8. Cystic acne all over the face
9. Brown and rotting teeth
10. A cleft palate
11. Bowed legs
12. Crooked nose
13. A clubbed foot
14. Bodily deformities (congenital)
15. A disastrous haircut (self-inflicted or not)
16. Notably disproportionate facial features
17. A facial tattoo
18. A very visible facial birthmark
19. A wandering “lazy eye” (maybe it just wants to be somewhere else)
20. Botched cosmetic surgery
21. A missing ear
22. A missing eye
23. A tendency to overdo it with perfume/cologne
24. Scars on wrists and arms
25. Clumps of hair missing
26. Terrible balance
27. A noticeable overbite or “buck teeth”
28. Excessive facial hair
29. A thick unibrow
30. A hair dye job gone horribly wrong
31. Webbed toes
32. Thick, blotchy skin
33. Short, rough-cut fingernails (from biting them)
34. Albinism (and exceptional vulnerability to sunburn)
35. Heart disease (in need of a transplant)
36. A lung disease — like Cystic Fibrosis — with increased vulnerability to infection
37. A degenerative disease like ALS/Lou Gherig’s disease
38. Kidney disease (and need for dialysis or a transplant)
39. AIDS or another disease that stigmatizes them and shortens their life
How will you use this list of character flaws for your writing?
You’ve run across plenty of common character flaws, and all of them made their characters more interesting and believable than they might otherwise have been.
Characters without flaws are boring. Your story’s hero will be unforgettable.
So, you want your story’s main character to stand out more. They have to have interesting character flaws other writers haven’t used — or not as much.
Ditto for your antagonist. Every villain has flaws, after all. Plenty have more than their share. But yours will have a more eclectic mix of flaws and surprising qualities. You’ll keep those readers guessing.
Keep this list handy whenever you’re getting acquainted with a new character. Keep in mind, though, that even many of the flaws from the “negative” list can be corrected (though some are more stubborn than others).
Don’t save them all for your villains.