As mentioned in the previous post, perfect characters can quickly become dull and boring to audiences.  Protagonists with flaws are much more relatable to audiences, garnering sympathy or empathy as the main character grapples with whatever issue they are dealing with.  

Understanding that character flaws are not inherently bad or negative is crucial. In fact, they can be the very elements that make a character interesting and dynamic.  They can also be something the main character must either embrace or overcome as the story unfolds.

Let’s dig a little deeper.

Why Character Flaws Matter

Christopher Vogler states, “Interesting flaws humanize a character.  We can recognize bits of ourselves in a Hero who is challenged to overcome inner doubts, errors in thinking, guilt or trauma from the past, or fear of the future.  Weaknesses, imperfections, quirks, and vices immediately make a Hero or any character more real and appealing” (39).  

As discussed before, layers give a main character more depth and help make them more dimensional and less of a one-trick cardboard cutout.  Protagonists should have positive and negative elements that people can see in themselves or others, which aids in audiences connecting with the main character.

Flaws As Weaknesses

These fatal flaws in protagonists are holding them back from being who they are meant to be.  These negative traits prevent the protagonist from reaching their goals, and the only way to overcome them is to defeat them and move forward without their oppression.

In The Nutty Professor, Sherman Klump’s perception of himself and how he thinks others perceive him as a heavy-set man leads to his lack of self-esteem and self-assurance.  His already fragile self-worth is further obliterated by an insult comic, which leads Sherman to use a serum he hopes will make all his problems disappear.  Quite the opposite happens as Sherman transforms into the thin, energetic, and egotistical Buddy Love. 

Over the course of the story, Sherman realizes that he must be happy with himself and accept himself as he is.  This realization and emotional transformation lead Sherman to overcome his perceived character flaws and become more self-confident by the film’s end.

Flaws As Strengths

Sometimes, what we as an audience see as a character flaw is useful to the protagonist.  It’s part of who they are, and instead of attempting to overcome it, they embrace it fully, which actually helps them reach their goal.

Tony Stark in Iron Man is a sarcastic, obsessive narcissist. While these qualities in another character might turn the audience against them, these perceived character flaws actually help him survive and escape his captors at the film’s start since these traits give him the drive to create the first Iron Man suit.

Over the course of the story, we see Tony work to perfect and improve his suit designs and ultimately create the iconic Iron Man suit.  His tech ultimately helps him defeat Obadiah Stane at the film’s climax.  

True to his character, Stark takes full advantage of his new role by announcing it in a live broadcast instead of hiding his identity as Iron Man.  

By the film’s end, we greatly respect and admire Tony.  He has actively embraced who he is – flaws and all – and who he is becoming, a superhero.

Flaws For Growth

Character flaws exist because they “give a character somewhere to go – the so-called ‘character arc’ in which a character develops from condition A to condition Z through a series of steps.  Flaws are a starting point of imperfection and incompleteness from which a character can grow” (Vogler 40).  As they grow and evolve as the story unfolds, the protagonist makes active choices that determine whether or not they will embrace their flaws and use them as strengths or overcome them if they see them as weaknesses hurting them and their journey.

About that journey…

Next Time…

Now that we’ve explored a little about who this main character is and their role within a story, it’s time to see them on their journey along the ups and downs of their character arc.  We’ll begin to explore that in the next post!

See you next time!


Vogler, Christopher. The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers. Michael Wiese Productions, 1998.

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