Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 4: Fatal Flaw

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month four:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 4: Fatal Flaw

When I was in college, I overheard a young woman say to a friend, “Well, I can be friends with a girl who is smart, and I can be friends with a girl who is beautiful, but I just can’t stand a girl who’s beautiful and smart.”


That’s a very good summary of how your readers are going to feel about your main character if he or she is too perfect. We know our own vulnerabilities only too well. When we meet someone who is too talented, too beautiful, or too smart, all that perfection eats away at our self-esteem. So, unless you’re writing a spoof, please give your characters vulnerabilities. Your readers need to identify with the main character. Character flaws pull your reader into your novel, make that reader stick with you through 400 or more pages of story, and – best of all – inspire your readers to buy your next book. Perfection just doesn’t cut it!


If you’ve read any of the TWILIGHT series, you know that the main character Bella is a total klutz. She’s also not aware of her own beauty and not very popular. Those flaws help make Bella a very loveable character. I have to admit that nothing makes me ‘forgive’ a gorgeous Hollywood starlet more readily for her beauty than her sincere lament about her squinty eyes or crooked teeth.


Let’s face it. We all tend to romanticize life. In mid-winter we dream of life on the beach – warm sun, snacks and cold drinks in the cooler, family time… But in real life, beach days also include ants, sunburn, and sand – all over our hands, in our food, and in our bathing suits. Even the most romantic of readers want their novels to include a bit of sand in the beach scene and, more importantly, imperfection in their main characters.




One caution – be careful with character flaws. Don’t make them so terrible that your reader turns away in disgust. For example, it’s probably not a good idea for your protagonist to be mean to children or dogs.


We all have character flaws. I, alas, like Bella, am a klutz. I also have a tendency to talk too much when I’m nervous. The main character in my current WIP (work in progress) is drop-dead gorgeous, except that her face is plastered with freckles. She’s also made some very unwise life choices. Are you working on a novel or short story? What’s your character’s flaw? Let’s share some ideas by composing a list.


What character flaws have you used within your writing, noticed in your reading, or put up with in real life?

Any questions for me?  Please feel free to ask!


Blessings and Happy Writing!




*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*


Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back May 23, 2013, for part 5.


4 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 4: Fatal Flaw

  1. Good points! I try not to make my main character too perfect. I don’t think kids would like her if I did that. She is friendly, kind and caring but can be impetuous at times and annoys her friends.


  2. You know that descendants of King Arthur and Sir Lancelot story I’m working on? King Arikk is a sort of coward, but specializes in defensive sword play. Sir [Lancelot] is pretty old, but is as agile as a 57-yr-old can get, but has close to no patience. And the MC is hotheaded, but learns fast. 😀


  3. Hi Darlene,
    Those are 2 great character flaws for a book or story written for kids, because so many kids have experienced those problems in their own lives and in the lives of their friends! It sounds like you have a good handle on your characterization, Darlene.


  4. All great character flaws, Erik, and also each of those flaws can lend themselves to wonderful plot twists! I’m getting more and more excited about this book of yours!


I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

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