Writing Your Protagonists Weaknesses

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On The Table Read, “The Best Book Reader Magazine in the UK“, author JJ Barnes writes about why your character needs flaws and weaknesses and how to write them.

Written by JJ Barnes


When writing about your Protagonist, you’re more likely think about their strength than their character weaknesses. You’re telling a story about them so they need qualities that make that story work, be it strength, intelligence, or determination to succeed. However, their weaknesses are just as important as their strengths. I’ll be writing about why.

Character Flaws

When somebody is written to be perfect, they come across as unrelatable. You want your audience to understand them, and see themselves in who they are. If your audience can’t relate to them, then they’ll disconnect from the character.

Without flaws, your Protagonist will lose humanity. You need your audience to believe they are real people, believe that their story matters. If they don’t believe in your characters, they won’t care about them, and they won’t care about your story.

All of us have flaws in our character, even the most noble and good. So if you write no character weaknesses, they will read like a cardboard cut out of a person, not a real human. The humanity of your Protagonist is what will draw your audience into rooting for them and investing their time into them.

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How They Handle Their Character Weaknesses

How people deal with their mistakes and weakness tells you a lot about who they are. If they lash out and blame others rather than looking inwardly, they are more morally corrupt and suited to the role as Antagonist.

Your Protagonist should be capable of recognising their character weaknesses and learning from them. Being committed to self improvement allows your character to grow and change. Every time their weaknesses cause the to fail, they need to learn and become more capable.

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By the time the climax to your story comes, your Protagonist will have turned those weaknesses into strengths. Learned from their mistakes and improved as people. They will then be worthy of the victory following the final challenge against the Antagonist. Of course, that doesn’t mean they have to come away victorious, but it matters that your audience believes they are worthy and capable to achieving it.

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Conflict From Character Weaknesses

I have probably said this in every single writing advice article I’ve ever written, but I’ll say it again. Your story needs conflict. Without conflict, the story will drag, and it won’t be entertaining. Conflict is how your story moves forward and what keeps your audience interested.

The story conflict is what your Protagonist wants, being blocked by your Antagonist. Your Antagonist either wants the same thing for themselves, or is motivated to stop them having it. You initiate that by locking it at the beginning of your story, and resolved at the climax.

However, each scene needs its own scene level conflict as well. Each scene you write has characters motivated to get things, being blocked by other characters in the scene who want things too. That ongoing conflict in each scene that keep the action moving forward and the tension alive.

If your character has no weaknesses, they’ll never make mistakes or struggle. They’ll never be scared or grumpy. You need to write a character that can be an active part of any scene level conflict by bumping heads with other characters within that scene.

Illicit Empathy

Getting your audience to care about your character is essential in your story, and drawing out their empathy is how you can do it. If their weaknesses cause them to fail and suffer, your audience will recognise themselves and feel empathy for your Protagonist. If they never suffer, never fail, your audience won’t have a reason to emotionally bond to them. There’s nothing to empathise with.

We’ve all embarrassed ourselves because of mistakes we’ve made. We’ve all screwed something up because we just weren’t good enough. Writing their emotional response to those failings will draw your audience in. Watching them fight to improve, motivated to become better, will feel empowering. Take your audience on their emotional journey, let them in on that process, and they’ll feel full invested.

Your characters are the main reason your audience will love your story. So write people they can emotionally connect to and they’ll emotionally connect to your story as a whole.

More From JJ Barnes:

I am an author, filmmaker, artist and youtuber, and I am the creator and editor of The Table Read.

You can find links to all my work and social media on my website: www.jjbarnes.co.uk

Buy my books: www.sirenstories.co.uk/books

Follow me on Twitter: @JudieannRose

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