A Whole Bunch of Juicy Character Weaknesses
When writing your characters, it’s easy to make them extraordinary. Maybe they have super strength and the ability to read minds. Perhaps they are the definition of beautiful. Maybe they help old ladies cross the street, go save kittens from trees, and volunteer for charities.
We get it. They’re really great.
But those aren’t the characters that stick with your reader. Perfect characters, in big doses like novels, are dull and forgettable. If you want truly great characters, they need some problematic traits.
In this article, we’re going to be looking at a specific kind of character trait: weaknesses. This includes…
- What a weakness is
- How a weakness is different from a flaw
- A whole bunch of juicy weaknesses for you to give your characters
And unlike some characters, my weakness isn’t a fear of moving forward, so let’s get on with it.
(That was lame, even by my standards.)
What is a Weakness?
Let’s start by figuring out what a weakness is. For such a common, seemingly simple term, the definition isn’t so straightforward.
First, let’s visit our friends at Oxford Languages. They define weakness as: the state or condition of lacking strength.
Kind of on the nose, right? It’s true, weak is the opposite of strong, and that can be useful in determining weaknesses for our character.
But they also define it as: a quality or feature regarded as a disadvantage or fault.
Now we’re getting somewhere.
Let’s expand it a bit more, though. When writing your characters, a weakness could be a feature that:
- Is regarded as a disadvantage or fault (thanks, Oxford)
- Can make them vulnerable or susceptible to negative influences or outcomes
- Diminishes their other characteristics
- Causes them to be less effective, strong, or resilient
I wasn’t lying when I said it wasn’t straightforward. But a weakness could fit into any one of those definitions and usually overlaps between them.
The whole point of a weakness is two-fold.
First, it makes your character more realistic. Even in speculative fiction like fantasy and sci-fi, we want real, relatable characters… who just happen to be elves or aliens.
Second, it gives them something to work towards.
The thing with weaknesses is that, in general, they can be improved upon. Sure, it’s a part of the character, but it isn’t so deeply ingrained in them that they can’t work on bettering themselves.
And that’s important for one significant distinction.
Weaknesses vs. Flaws
You might be thinking, “Doug, I know I’m supposed to write flawed characters. Why are you repeating something that’s been written on DabbleU already?”
Well, dearwriter, flaws and weaknesses aren’t the same thing. They’re similar, and I’ll even concede that they’re interchangeable in everyday conversations. But when it comes to creating your imaginary characters, these two terms are not synonymous.
If you glance up just a few paragraphs, you’ll remember that a weakness can be improved upon. A flaw is the opposite.
Flaws exist at the very core of our character. They dwell there like little gremlins because something or someone hurt that precious character in the past (called the Ghost), which created this distorted view of the world (called the Lie).
Flaws are a big deal. They influence everything your character does and are significant hurdles to personal growth.
Conversely, weaknesses are situational and are often overcome in the pursuit of larger goals.
Weaknesses can also stem from flaws.
Someone who had their heart broken in the past now finds it almost impossible to let others in again (a flaw). As a result, they are extremely awkward in social situations (a weakness) because they’d rather stay at home where it’s safe and warm and comforting.
Another character might be racist (a very big flaw). Their weakness is that they seek out conflict whenever someone of a different race is around (a despicable weakness). If you throw this person and someone of a different race into a situation where they need to work together to survive, the weakness is going to be overcome a lot more easily than the flaw.
Flaws are also central to character arcs. That racist person can, over the course of your story, come to understand how messed up their deeply held value is, but overcoming the weakness will take maybe a chapter or two.
List of Juicy Weaknesses
The best way to understand weaknesses is to see what some juicy ones are and how they impact their character. Below, you’ll find a list of these weaknesses, divided into some categories for easy navigation.
Feel free to totally rip these weaknesses off or use them as a launching point to come up with your own. Just remember what we’ve covered so far when giving your characters a weakness.
Up first, we have physical weaknesses. These make, as the name suggests, physical acts more difficult. That could range from a sword fight to sports to just going out for a walk.
Here are a few physical weaknesses to get you started.
- Chronic pain or illness
- Physical disability*
- Allergies or sensitivities
- Poor balance or coordination
- Poor eyesight or hearing
- Lack of physical strength or endurance
- Physical deformity or disfigurement
*Note: By definition, a physical disability can be considered a weakness. However, be cognizant of how people with disabilities have been portrayed in the past and continue to be discriminated against today. Don’t be someone who perpetuates stereotypes of disabled people if you choose to include someone with a physical disability.
Mental and emotional weaknesses
Next up, we have weaknesses that affect our minds. Even the strongest person in the world can struggle with everyday (or heroic) tasks when something in their brain makes it more difficult.
- Fear or phobia
- Low self-esteem or confidence
- Impulsiveness or recklessness
- Lack of empathy or emotional intelligence
- Anger issues
- Jealousy or envy
- Imposter syndrome
*Note: Like physical disabilities, depression and other mental health challenges have often been portrayed with stigmas and as negative stereotypes. When writing about someone suffering from depression, remember that a character’s weakness doesn’t make them “weak.” Rather, it makes the obstacles they face more difficult.
Your character is likely going to be interacting with others throughout their journey, but there are a variety of things that can make those interactions more difficult.
- Shyness or social anxiety
- Inability to form meaningful relationships
- Lack of assertiveness or confidence in social situations
- Social awkwardness or difficulty reading social cues
- Inability to trust others
- Fear of rejection or abandonment
- Inability to express emotions or communicate effectively
- Over-reliance on others for validation or support
There are weaknesses imposed by society upon a character. These weaknesses aren’t innate or developed by the character, but external factors have imposed them onto our character.
- Check out some of these societal weaknesses.
- Discrimination or prejudice based on race, gender, sexuality, religion, or other factors
- Poverty or economic disadvantage
- Lack of access to education, healthcare, or other basic necessities
- Oppressive political or cultural systems that limit freedom and autonomy
Finally, we come to a whole bunch of weaknesses that don’t fit nicely into a category (which could be a weakness itself!).
- Addiction or substance dependence
- Inability to cope with stress or pressure
- Lack of direction or purpose in life
- Inability to adapt to change or new situations
- Procrastination or laziness
- Perfectionism or obsessiveness
- Inability to set boundaries or say no
- Lack of creativity or imagination
Are You a Character Writing Expert?
Here’s the thing: weaknesses are just one aspect of a great character.
There’s a lot that goes into writing memorable, relatable, and downright awesome characters. Way more than we can fit in just one blog or even a whole book!
But if you’re looking for some resources to help bring your characters to life, I’ve got your back. Start by checking out these free articles over at DabbleU:
- Our character archetype masterclass
- Character interviews that actually work
- A character development worksheet
- How to create a character sketch
- A character template with more than 100 traits to fill in
Then, when you’re done, click here to download our free e-book, Let’s Write a Book, which helps you take your story from idea to first draft, including the foundations you need to write incredible characters.
And, of course, you need something to write your story with! That’s where Dabble comes in. Not only does Dabble help you reach your writing dreams with goals, tracking, and automatic syncing across devices (hello writing anywhere, any time, without worrying about constant saving), but there are dedicated places to develop your characters and your world. Everything is just one click away when you’re writing, too, so there is no juggling multiple documents.
If you aren’t already a Dabbler, I won’t hold it against you. But what I will do is give you this link here to get started with Dabble and get access to all the premium features for free.
Like free free. You don’t even need to put in your credit card number.
So go bring those characters and all their beautiful weaknesses to life, and write your next bestseller. Happy writing!
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