Author’s Corner: Flawed Characters

Flawed Characters Create Meaning

A plot with underdeveloped characters is little more than light and sound. No matter how well explosions and spectacle may be reported, story is ultimately about character.

And, it is flawed characters that are most believable. After all, no one’s perfect.

It’s easy to think that the surface events of a story are its point, but “drama” doesn’t mean anything without a specific person for it to happen to. Even the most dramatic prose relies on character.

Characters With Flawed Realities

Herron sits at a table with his books displayed
Author R.L. Herron

The experiences that shape each of us are unique.

All human beings are flawed in their own ways. How they are flawed has a lot to do with upbringing, experience, trauma, and lessons learned. To give a story meaning we need to see how the characters perceive the world, and how that external world influences them.

At the start of all good stories, we are introduced to a protagonist with a set of established flaws. How they perceive the world helps readers relate to their struggles. Then, when the drama of the plot kicks the protagonist into action, we can find ourselves rooting for them.

Identifying and Accepting Flaws

It is crucial to character development that a character changes as the story progresses. But what defines “change” exactly? Change arises at the moment the protagonist admits they got their perception of the world wrong.

The characters we meet at the beginning of a story are, like all of us in real life, living in their own version of the world. Their perceptions may be wrong but they don’t know it.

But they’re about to find out.

This means a protagonist must break down the very structure of their reality before rebuilding it again, giving them a new perception of the external world. Such transformation isn’t easy. Actually, it is often painful and disturbing for a character to come to terms with their flawed views. The reason it can be so agonizing is because they must first reject their own beliefs in order to change.

Pain and Predestined Personalities

In addition to shaping the brain from experience and real early-life drama, it’s important for an author to realize genetics may also play a role in how agreeable, disagreeable, or introverted a character is. These personality traits also affect how a character responds to and behaves in a situation.

For example, when unexpected change (the drama in a story) happens, different personalities may be more likely to deceive, flirt, or get aggressive, in order to get out of the situation.

Characters with different personalities generate interesting and unique plots. It’s from character that goals, plans, and actions flow. And, as characters go about their way, the external world pushes back, generating a plot-specific cause-and-effect journey.

Bring Flawed Characters to Life

Due to a combination of nature and nurture, we all inhabit different realities…and when differently perceived realities collide a story’s drama happens. Characters seem real mostly because they are flawed, like all humans.

A writer can deliver a character’s flaws in virtually everything. In their thoughts, dialogue, memories, desires, social behaviors, and emotions. Flawed characters leave their imprints everywhere (how they dress, show off, and otherwise display what they want others to think of them). Stories are rarely entertaining unless they have conflict, and conflict inevitably arises from character flaws. Flaws make characters relatable. It is through story that we can find meaning, but it is through flawed characters we can create meaning.

About R.L. Herron

R.L. Herron, the author of multiple works of fiction, including several Readers' Favorite medal winners, lives and writes in Michigan with his lovely wife, and a finally-paid mortgage. His books are all available on Amazon and online with Barnes & Noble. Visit Author R.L. Herron's Website, Broken Glass.


  1. Very interesting. I never knew that.

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