Flaws versus faults, character development, and why it matters

One of my most popular posts ten years ago on my old blog was about the distinction I’ve always made between flaws and faults in fictional characters (and real people).

You see, it’s important as an author to show that you respect your reader (as I recently discussed).

One way we do that is by showing we understand and honor what the reader thinks about our characters.

This is where character flaws and faults come into play.

  • FLAWS are temperamental weaknesses–annoying, distracting, causing problems, but excusable and understandable
  • FAULTS are serious moral blemishes

Some examples of flaws may be moodiness, or impulsiveness, or a quick tongue, or a tendency to initial laziness, or a quick temper.

Some examples are faults are hubris, deep greed, envy, maliciousness.

Most people (and characters) with some degree of self-awareness will be aware of their primary flaws, regret them, dislike them, and try to mitigate their impact.

Honestly, I think that in real life we aren’t generally aware of our faults, or we don’t worry ourselves about them until there is a serious wake up call sent our way.


To be concise, we can respect our readers by not expecting them to overlook character faults.

We shouldn’t try to explain them away.

Through plot, tone, etc. it should be implied that we understand how these aspects of our characters represent real issues and real moral failings.

We need to take in account the roadblock faults represent to connecting with or approving of a character.

(One of my least favorite things is when a writer throws in all kinds of character faults and then clearly tries to present him or her as a good person.)

Now, a quick note to end on regarding flaws: they are a GREAT way to keep a character likable and relatable and even honorable while avoiding “Mary Sue” territory.

So, what do you think about this distinction? Does it feel helpful? Does it make sense?

Mark your calendars for the release of The Crimson League: The Fight for Hope on June 15! In the meantime, you can read an excerpt here.


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