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Character Weaknesses

By Expert Author: John Williams

Just as characters must have strengths, they must also have weaknesses. A character that only possesses strengths is unrealistic. A perfect character without flaws, fears, worries and doubt is boring. Readers will be unable to relate to this perfect character because everyone is flawed in some way or another, and for that reason, your characters must be too.
As a writer, your goal is to make your characters sound more human to your readers. Giving them weaknesses will help you achieve that goal. Like strengths, plotting your character's weaknesses can be a large event or something small. This applies to characters who may be aliens or monsters.
Weaknesses are meant to add complications to the internal and external conflicts. Short-tempers, for example, can cause a character to lash out at a loved one and eventually drive them away. It can cause a character to lose his or her job. A flaw can also get a character killed. Many times, especially in horror and mystery stories, curiosity (which can be a strength and a weakness) can motivate a character to investigate a strange noise in the attic only to be murdered by a knife-wielding maniac. If the character didn't investigate that strange noise, then it wouldn't be a very exciting scene, would it?
Everyone has fears. Everyone is afraid of something or someone. Your character may be afraid of heights like Carla Englel in Wes Craven's Don't Look Down, or maybe the fear could be less tangible, like a fear of the dark or a fear of being alone.
Your character's fears should be clearly established. It should also be revealed in an interesting and imaginative way. For that reason, you need to understand your character's motivations and how they are affected by their fear. Even if your central plots do not revolve around your protagonist's phobias, it should affect the storyline in some way. A detective may have a fear of the dark, but perhaps it doesn't physically affect his actions until he learns that the kidnapped girl is actually held captive in a deep, dark cave somewhere.
Their fear may also play a larger role. Perhaps you have a character whose father works in a butcher's shop, but your character has a fear of the slicing and grinding equipment. Then his father becomes sick and in order to pay for the surgery, the son has to take over the shop.
Disabilities, fears and weaknesses should help the story move forward without overshadowing the plot. They must be realistic enough that the readers can believe that the character is struggling and may or may not succeed in reaching the established goals. Characters need to be pushed to their breaking point, and in most cases, they will overcome their fears and reach their goals. For the unfortunate characters that don't overcome their fears and succumb to them instead, then that character's death is the usual and appropriate consequences much like in the novel (SPOILER ALERT!) Cheri, where the protagonist kills himself after realizing he walked away from the only woman he would ever love.
Make your character struggle but also give them a fair chance. If your character is in a wheelchair, don't make them wheel across the Sahara to rescue the princess.

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