by Gary Fearon, Creative Director, Southern Writers Magazine
Besides making our protagonist more lifelike, a character flaw has the power to add the fascinating element of irony. A hero who becomes the guardian of his brother's kids will have a worse time of it if he had vowed never to have children. An eyewitness in a murder trial will find it harder to testify if he was somewhere he wasn't supposed to be.
The "inner demon" doesn't have to be anything illegal, immoral, or fattening. It can be a guilty conscience, a moral dilemma, the fight between the angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. Anything that creates personal turmoil is material for mayhem.
It can feel against the grain to make our hero imperfect, especially if we write in first person, because our own voice is inherently caught up in there on some conscious or unconscious level. If it helps distance you from your character, seek out a trait you don't possess. Need some ideas? The Seven Deadly Sins could be a source of inspiration. If you can remember all seven and don't have to look them up, more power to you. I can usually only remember the ones I've gotten good at.
If you're totally uncomfortable giving your beloved hero a flaw, consider a vulnerability instead. What's the difference? One would consider chronic grouchiness a flaw, whereas a fear of heights is a vulnerability. Simply put, a flaw is something we can change; a vulnerability is something we can't. It's not Indiana Jones' fault that he's afraid of snakes. (Although I suppose he could get therapy for that.)
Depending on what you're going for, a vulnerability can elicit sympathy more than a flaw. By the same token, a flaw is something you can work into your character arc.
Whether our protagonist is a "hero" in the truest sense of the word, or an underdog who must rise from the ashes, we give our story layers by including an Achilles heel above and beyond the main conflict. The reader may not have personal experience with a tsunami or a kidnapping, but everyone knows what it's like to be human.