'Best' or most popular personality flaw for a hero or heroine to have?

Literature loves its personality flaws in heroes and heroines, especially in the romance genre.

What is the ‘best’ or most popular personality flaw for a hero or heroine to have?

A hot temper?

A misunderstood loner?


A psychological trauma from the past?

Also, how is this different from genre to genre?

House and Sherlock (The same person, apparently) have a lack of empathy for the people that only they, in their incomparable brilliance, can save. I admire that because most people in my life who need help, I can’t do much more than offer my best wishes.

I’m reminded of a scene from Homicide: Life on the Streets where Pembleton and Bayliss are interviewing a woman whose husband terrorized the city with a sniper rifle and then killed himself. Bayliss tried to be nice to the woman and was genuinely hurt that she didn’t appreciate it. Pembleton didn’t give a fuck about her feelings and just asked the questions he needed her to answer. If there was ever any doubt about which of them was the better detective, this erased it.

The suicidal nature of Mel Gibson’s Riggs brought an interesting perspective to Lethal Weapon.

“Absent-minded professor” syndrome.

Anyone remember the scene in the beginning of “Journey to the Center of the Earth” (1959) where James Mason, as Professor Lindenbrook, is walking down the street while reading his newspaper…and an entire Pipe-and-Drum Corps marches past him (politely opening ranks to bypass him on either side) and he doesn’t notice until after they’ve passed?

I love that in my heroes! Reed Richards does this sort of obsessive-focus thing in Fantastic Four comics all the time. “Reed, the Skrulls are invading earth!” “Yes, yes, just let me configure the Ditko apparatus for time-space conformity…”

For female protagonists in rom-coms the answer would be clumsiness or social awkwardness, thus facilitating the Meet Cute.

And for the men, I guess it would be pride and arrogance. Although sometimes the roles are reversed.

Well, there’s also Miss Proper who has to have everything perfect or Career Woman who’s devoted everything to her job, often even her love-life revolving around moving up the ladder or improving her social position. They invariably meet some handsome but lazy good-for-nothing who teaches them how to live and enjoy life (and usually gets them drunk, causing an embarrassing scene).

In the Battle Angel Alita (Ganmu) graphic novels, the protagonist is a compassionate hero who is willing to risk her life and even sacrifice herself for others, but is also a merciless killer who delights in destruction and ultimately chooses a life of unending combat for her own sense of purpose. Similarly, a key side character, Daisuke Ido, appears to be a kindhearted, selfless father-figure and respected doctor, but in his night job he works as a bounty hunter who takes pleasure in killing his targets.
They’re pretty dark (and graphic) novels.

I actually think one of the most interesting character flaws a hero could have would be cowardice, though I can’t think of any examples right now.
(Maybe the Thomas Covenant novels? But I only read the first one, and rather hated by the time I got to the end.)

A couple from Shakespeare:
Othello: Jealousy
Macbeth: Ambition

And one from Greek tragedy:
Jason: Hubris

Major William Cage (Tom Cruise) in Edge of Tomorrow

I just saw a picture of a romance novel somewhere and it described the dude as

“He had everything a woman wanted- looks, money, and a bad temper.”

So, I’m going with that one.

Good one. I think the idea is that some women want to tame a man. They don’t want a ready-made product.

I think I read somewhere that, if you put Othello in Hamlet’s situation and vice versa, they’d be triumphant heroes instead of doomed in tragedies.

I came here to post this.

Yeah, TC is about the most flawed protagonist I can think of. He raped a woman on page 30 of the first book, and spent the next 10 volumes and 3000 years whining about it. Still loved the books though.

Harry Flashman

Some genres tend to feature particular flaws to the point of cliche. Hard-boiled noir detectives almost always have a weakness for dames, and those who do inevitably get betrayed by one. The inability to let go of a nagging clue is common to all fictional detectives.

“Unwilling to follow the rules” is a common flaw in military fiction that conveniently keeps the protagonist serving in a combat role when his/her accomplishments would otherwise have resulted in promotion to undramatic desk duty. Also seen in police thrillers.

Impulsiveness and failure to reason out consequences are very common to heroes in coming-of-age stories.

Something bad happens -> time to drink. Such an overused trope.

They took it to totally comical levels with the recent Jessica Jones series. And she’s a whiskey drinker at that! (Really, how many women do you know that are heavily into straight bourbon?)


Interesting suggestion.
I’ve never read any of the books, but I’m not sure Flashman counts as a hero. (Maybe a “hero”?)

For that matter, my suggestion of Macbeth is probably inappropriate. Even though he starts out as a highly praised war hero, it sure doesn’t take him long to turn to villainy.

I still maintain that Othello, although a jerk, is an archetypal flawed hero.

Now that’s really interesting.
Othello is a decisive man of action. Hamlet scrutinizes and overthinks everything around him.
In each other’s shoes they probably would have foiled their opponents in short order, but in their own stories, their traits are fatal flaws.

And that’s why Lucifer is such a great character.
But again, I’m straying from the theme of Heroes.