In classic literary analysis, a character flaw is an internal character weakness that brings conflict to the character's world and sometimes brings about his downfall. Shakespeare's Hamlet has a character flaw in his indecisiveness. Because he can see all sides of the issue of his father's death, he cannot make a clear decision about whether and how to strike back at his enemies. Character flaws are important because they show the basic humanity of the character, making them accessible for readers to relate to them while they may still be portrayed as "larger than life". It's easy to tag the character with major flaws, for example: he's a loner, she's a leader, he's a wounded soul, she's a survivor.
My advice is not to think big here, but to think small that becomes big. Connect with your reader first. Readers connect with small, specific things better than with big broad themes. For example: he compulsively stirs his coffee thirty times, it drives her crazy. Why does he do it? It primes him to think about his daily to do list. He needs to do it. What does this generalize into? He needs a moment of lead time before he makes decisions. On the other hand, she makes snap decisions, and he hates that she doesn't take the time to think. Do you see room for growth and understanding in each character? Plus, some great conflicts?
Because stories depend on characters and readers connecting with those characters, the best stories have characters that despite their flaws are easy to connect with or are unusual or special in some way. As an author you can make use of a small flaw such as a mannerism or habit to reveal character and give the reader a focus for connecting with your characters.
We see human mannerisms every day, and since they are so common, we may no longer pay attention to them. If you become adept at describing mannerisms in words and you infuse your characters with unique mannerisms, your readers will make stronger connections to your characters, making it easy for your readers to visualize the story events as they happen.
Think back to when you were a student in elementary or high school. Recall some of your teachers, recall how they walked around the room, how they engaged the class, how they spoke. In high school I had a chemistry teacher who called everyone "babe", boys, girls, other adults, even the principal. "Hey babe. How are ya babe? Okay, babe this is what we're going to do today." After a while you just shake your head and ignore it. Or, stow it away for use in a future book.
Go to a sporting event, lecture, or just hang around in any public place and you can observe useful mannerisms to put in your books. Look for: tapping fingers, wiggling feet or legs, chewing cheeks or lips or nails, flipping hair out of eyes, running fingers through hair, cracking knuckles, pursing lips, puffing breath. Listen for: repeated words and phrases, unvoiced hums, clicks and other noises. If you don't have time to go out to observe, choose a film and watch it with the sound turned off.
Personal habits are what make us who we are. They are ways that we approach problem solving, ways that we handle stress, ways that we goof off. Many of our personal habits developed during childhood. Some could even be attributed to genetics, since mannerisms and habits are often shared amongst family members.
Your main characters should each have at least one identifiable mannerism or habit that is unique to them. Preferably, the mannerism or habit will reflect their character and put them into conflict with other characters. It doesn't matter whether your character's habit is long standing or more recently acquired, or whether it is a good habit or a bad habit. It does matter how you show it and how it affects other characters or impacts the story.
Evaluate the meaning of your characters habits. What does the habit say about the type of person your character is?
Is it an addictive habit? One that he can't shake?
Does it change him from a Dr. Jekyll into a Mr. Hyde or the reverse?
Is the habit something the character learned to please a parent or mentor?
What is the function of this habit? What does it do for the character (good or bad)?
How detrimental is the habit to the character?
Is it second nature to him? Does he do it without thinking?
How regularly does the character perform the mannerism? What are the circumstances?
How does the habit affect other characters? Does it drive them crazy, or is it comforting?
Does the habit highlight a talent or strength?
Has the character ever tried to break the habit?
Is this a new habit the character is working on?
Answer some of these questions for your character to help connect this small habit to the larger picture of who your character is and why he behaves the way he does. A small habit often indicates the beginning of a larger problem. The small character flaw is what makes it possible for your reader to connect with your character and that can be crucial to your story.
Kat Duncan is a creation extremist who is doing her best to identify human creativity and free it from captivity, one student at a time. As a young child, Kat once tried to confess the telling of her stories to her parish priest because she thought they fit the definition the nuns gave for telling a lie. With her lies fully sanctioned and blessed by church authorities, Kat writes stories to entertain and enlighten. She is a Fulbright Scholar who spent a year in West Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Kat has a master's degree in education and over a dozen years of experience teaching students from elementary through college and beyond. Kat has published a romantic suspense by The Wild Rose Press and is an Indie author of non-fiction about writing, romantic suspense, and medieval historicals.
A Lady of Worth
Sir Ian, castellan of Fellswick Castle, sworn to protect the lands during his lordís absence and following a personal oath to assist all women, cannot resist the lovely fragile lady brought to his care through treachery. His courtly attentions to her veer out of control into true love, tempting him to break all his knightly vows and risk all he is sworn to protect to win her love.
Lady Seline only needed to fulfill one vow, birth her husband a male child, so he would keep his promise of returning her to Flanders. Stranded, fearing for her life and desperately starved for love, Seline can scarcely believe that such a stern and austere man as Sir Ian would capture her heart. Will her attempt to oppose her false husband bring her valiant knight to ruin?