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Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Find Interesting Flaws for Your Protagonist with This Writing Exercise

While many of you are in the thick of NaNoWriMo, now that the month is a little over halfway done, and some of you are celebrating picture book month, I thought I'd take some time today and share a character flaw writing exercise with you. While those of us who live in the United States are getting ready for a big holiday full of many fall and Thanksgiving favorite delicious dishes, we can all take a few minutes out of our busy November schedules to think about...

What is wrong with our main characters? 

I don't mean this in the sense of you are writing a poor book or a boring main character. I mean that in order to have an interesting book, you need a hero or heroine with a problem and some flaws. Everyone's got them--so should your characters. 

Here's the exercise! If you want to share your answers to step one and two with us for our next market newsletter at the end of November, in 100 words or less, we'd love that! We'll of course give you a byline and link to a website if you have one. Put these two steps in the comments or email them to me with the subject line My Characters' Flaws at Margolynndill (at) 

  • Step one: Brainstorm a list of flaws for a protagonist that aren’t “too bad.” (Think of qualities in yourself or your best friend you might want to change, but aren't the end of the world, if you’re stuck). 
  • Step two: Choose two flaws from your list that you will assign to your protagonist’s personality in a current work-in-progress or soon-to-be work in progress. Now think of three good qualities that your character will also have. 
  • Step three: *WRITING PROMPT FUN*: Pretend your protagonist and another character from your fiction work (antagonist, sidekick, mentor, love interest) go to a job interview for the protagonist. The interviewer asks the OTHER CHARACTER (sidekick/mentor/love interest): "What is the protagonist’s biggest weakness?" Write down what the other character would say. Now give the protagonist a chance to answer in his or her own voice. "What does he/she think about what the other character said?" Let the protagonist respond.
So for example: 

Harry Potter and Hermione Granger go on a job interview for Harry to be a professor at Hogwarts when they are older. Professor McGonagall asks Hermione, "Granger, what is Potter's biggest weakness?" Hermione smiles and says, "Well, Professor, sometimes Harry thinks he has to save the world all on his own. He is stubborn and doesn't want to ask others to help him." 

"Potter," the older witch asked. "Do you agree?" 

Out of habit, Harry rubbed his scar and thought before speaking carefully. "I definitely used to be that way when I was younger. And with my own kids, I probably still am. But now, my biggest weakness is my love for my children and Ginny, my wife. Sometimes, my love blinds me into doing stupid things." 

That's how you do step three of this writing exercise.

Okay, your turn! 

Margo L. Dill is a writing coach and teacher, living in St. Louis, MO, Please visit the WOW! classroom to see the classes she'll be teaching in December and January and to sign up: Writing a Novel with a Writing Coach and Writing for Middle Grade and Young Adult Readers. 


  1. Margo--I can't get to step 3 right now (NaNoWriMo has me frantic) but looking at the list of character flaws helped me with another project. It's funny. I should have thought of assigning it earlier to my main character, since it's one of my own flaws...


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