Rosslyn Elliot has written a great post about character flaws over at Rachelle Gardner's blog. She discusses the difference between a cosmetic flaw that only affects the protagonist (say, insecurity) and a real flaw (to continue with the same example, perhaps the tendancy towards jealousy that sometimes goes hand-in-hand with insecurity).
It made me realise a flaw with one of my own works-in-progress. My main character, Becky, was recruited for a dangerous secret job shortly after leaving college. Her friends know she has a dangerous job, but they don't know what it is. And because she can't talk to them about her job, and because her job is extremely demanding, she doesn't talk to them very much. She doesn't have much to talk about anymore - apart from her job.
But Becky blames her friends rather than herself for this. When friends that she hasn't contacted for a year don't include her in plans, she is angry. Why don't they understand that she's just too busy to see them? It takes someone else to point out that they're not being unreasonable - they're responding to her behaviour.
In the most recent draft, I left that theme there. But now I see that it's worth examining it more closely. What does this say about Becky? What trait does it reveal?
I think it reveals selfishness. She assumes that she is right. She assumes that the world ought to organise itself around her. And she assumes that if she doesn't see her friends, it's because they're too lazy or rude to contact her. She doesn't see that friendship is a two-way street, and she doesn't see that she's expecting her friends to be understanding about a situation that they are not fully aware of.
But mostly, she's the only person who suffers from this. I'm sure her friends are sorry to lose her, but Becky is our point-of-view character, so we only see her suffering for it.
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have a cosmetic flaw.
This is something I can examine. If Becky is self-absorbed, there are other ways that this can come out. It's very likely to come out at work, which is where we see her most often.
And it can only result in a better novel.
What about you guys? How do you find writing flawed characters? Hard, easy, fun?