Saturday, January 17, 2015


We’ve all got them. Your characters should have some, too.

Many craft experts agree. Writing characters with flaws makes them believable and real, more complex. Who is more interesting, Luke Skywalker or Han Solo?

If you buy into the notion, an invaluable tool to add to your library is Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi’s The Negative Traits Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws. Ackerman and Puglisi spend about a third of the book rationalizing character flaws and the remainder examining more than a hundred specific flaws. You have the biggies like manipulative, evil, controlling, dishonest, and jealous. There are other more subtle flaws such as impulsive, pessimistic, verbose, and apathetic.

Flaws provide excellent fodder for building character arcs. These faults and weaknesses can not only block the main character from reaching her goal, but hinder her. Recognizing the flaw then overcoming it entails the MC’s inner journey.

As the title suggests, this is a writer’s guide. Ackerman and Puglisi address character flaws in a manner useable to authors. In addition to defining the flaw and listing associated behaviors, they suggest possible causes for the imperfection - backstory for your character that you the author to need to understand but does not necessarily have to be shared with the reader. They offer suggestions on what the MC needs to do to overcome her flaw and traits in supporting characters that may cause conflict. Examples of characters from literature and film illustrate each flaw.

Recently The Negative Traits Thesaurus was used to flesh out one of my characters. The guy has several things going against him. He is abrasive, aloof, disrespectful, and volatile. He is slight of stature and fears being perceived as feminine. After considering the alternatives, macho is the flaw that fits him best with his role in the story. Some associated behaviors of macho include, aggression, bullying, competitiveness, getting into fights, and using anger or rage to express uncomfortable emotions. Other story ideas came out by examining this flaw. Macho people are prone to proud belching and spitting. I like to give my characters defining behaviors to help distinguish them from others and there it is for this guy.

Jeff Gerke says, “a character who is ripe for an inner journey is a character who has something inside her that needs to be changed. She’s living out of balance with herself, even if she doesn’t realize it. And the universe is going to conspire to rectify her situation.” 

Give the hero the perfect imperfection and you have the makings of a character arc. The Negative Traits Thesaurus can help nail the flaw.

(This article also posted at

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