Woman trying to kiss a man and he is rejecting her outdoor in a park

Possibly one of the most gut-wrenching things a writer can hear is that their beloved character is “annoying” or “unlikeable.” We want the reader to relate to and like the characters that we wrote to be likeable, so when we (unintentionally) succeed at instead making them an absolute pain in the arse, it can be frustrating and even a bit invalidating.

So how do we write a flawed character? More specifically, how do we go about writing a likeable flawed character?

Let’s begin.


Let the Character Be Annoying (At First)

Annoying music conflict. Group of young people with guitar and middle aged people in stress with loud noise, modern singing makes angry, irritate parents. Vector illustration with faceless characters

There’s nothing wrong with a character being kind of annoying at first. The reason we may find other people annoying is because they’re showing their whole ass, flaws and all, to the point where it’s hard to look past that. For example, a character who never listens to anyone and can’t stop talking. That’s annoying, no?

But the character probably either doesn’t know or doesn’t care that they’re being a pain. You just need to understand the difference between

  1. a flawed (and kind of annoying) character who doesn’t even realize they’re flawed yet, and
  2. a flawed character that is annoying to the point where you dread any time they show up in the story

There’s nothing wrong with your flawed character being annoying, because the character being insufferable at first just means they have a lot of growing to do.

I think of Yona from my favorite anime, Akatsuki no Yona (Yona of the Dawn). She’s a naïve, spoiled 16-year old princess at the story’s start, obsessed with marrying her cousin (yikes), and fixated only on her appearance and how much she hates her red hair.

But by the end, she is a brave, badass warrior princess backed by the five dragons (yes, fivedon’t start with me). She is confident, fearless, and while she still has love for the man who betrayed her, she has also found love and joy in the new family she has found (and Hak, who is objectively the better love interest; don’t @ me).

She doesn’t start out that way, though. At the start, she is a princess used to being pampered, only to lose everything she ever knew and loved and forced to flee her home. That’s heavy. It demands character growth. Yona has to get stronger to protect the people she loves, so she doesn’t have to endure the pain of losing her new found family the way she lost her father.

If a character is annoying, there’s probably a reason. But that doesn’t mean they can’t grow as a person and be…y’know, not annoying.


Show Us Vulnerability

Sad depressed woman at home, she is sitting on the couch and hugging a pillow, loneliness and sadness concept

Usually when someone is annoying, it’s because their flawed character trait is taken to an extreme.

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with making a character that annoying right from the jump—that when we meet them, they are so flawed that it bothers the people reading about them.

The problem with this is making them that annoying the entire time, with no character growth whatsoever. We all have flaws, and these flaws all have a backstory or a reason. Nobody behaves the way they behave just because. We are a product of our environment and experiences, and when we do something others find annoying or odd, there’s usually a reason. Give us some context that gives that annoying character some depth.

Maybe the annoying class clown uses humor as a defense mechanism. Maybe the brooding stranger who never joins in on the fun is scared of opening up and prefers just being by themselves. Maybe the vain and vapid popular girl is really deeply insecure and feels like all she has to offer is her appearance, even though she knows deep down that she’s smart and has important things to contribute to the world.

Ask yourself what it is about your flawed character that makes them annoying or problematic. Then work backwards. Run through it like this:

  1. My main character is loud and obnoxious.
  2. My main character talks really loudly and doesn’t listen to others.
  3. My main character’s flaw is that they’re a loudmouth with no discipline.
  4. Why is my main character like this? Why do they deign to be so loud and annoying even when people tell them to quiet down?
  5. My main character grew up in an orphanage. They moved around a lot and never had anyone to love and support them.
  6. My main character may have undiagnosed ADHD, and they tried to express themselves growing up but it always turned out like this:Meme where a pink blob inside a square is lonely, so in the next panel, it leaves it's little square and puts itself out there. It is punched by
  7. My main character is terrified of being rejected if they open up to someone or express themselves.
  8. My main character feels really good when people laugh at their jokes. They feel like they have some value when they make people laugh.
  9. My main character starts making jokes all of the time. Humor is their defense mechanism; it’s how they get people to like them. They need people to like them.
  10. My main character tries too hard to be liked, making loud and annoying jokes that no one finds funny.
  11. My main character is loud and obnoxious.


Make the Character RelatableBlack man in a white t-shirt smiling in the bathroom mirror

Remember how I said we all have flaws?

Well, we do. All of us.

Part of why we may tend to like “flawed but likeable” characters is that their flaws don’t become their whole personality. Or maybe they do, but not in a way that irritates us. For example, I hate hypocrisy because one of my greatest fears is being viewed as a hypocrite. I try to live my life in a way that doesn’t make me contradict myself, but life is full of contradictions, and it’s just not possible to stay true to your beliefs without exception. Sometimes life demands hypocrisy, and that’s okay, so long as you stick to your principles when life doesn’t make it impossible to do so. Acknowledge your own hypocrisy.

Because of my own beliefs, I like a character who acknowledges when they’re being a hypocrite. Better yet, I like a character who sticks to their beliefs even if it makes them look like a hypocrite (but we, the audience, know that they’re not). On the opposite end, I hate a character who is consistently hypocritical, but is also self righteous about their beliefs.

I’ve never liked Batman as a character because he’s a genius and a billionaire, yet his way of fighting crime feels hypocritical to me. He beats the hell out of petty criminals who are probably doing what they’re doing for survival, while he’s filthy rich and could hypothetically do a lot of good for the community. And maybe he does (I don’t know because I don’t read the comics, which is maybe a bit hypocritical of me), but I know him as a genius billionaire Playboy philanthropist who uses his vast wealth (most of which he was born into) to play dress up and beat the fuck out of criminals.

He saves the world a lot, so maybe in that regard, he gets a pass. But his strict “no killing” code also feels hypocritical considering his complete lack of empathy when it comes to fighting the nameless minions in his way.

I can’t empathize with a character like Batman because I find him hypocritical and self righteous—two traits I absolutely loathe, especially put together. But someone who relates to the character and reads all his comics is probably thinking that I myself am coming across as hypocritical and self-righteous. Who is she, they might be thinking, to judge a character she doesn’t even know? 

And honestly? That’s a fair assessment. I am attacking a character I know very little about, without doing my due diligence to make sure that I’m right. I’m being self-righteous by judging a character who has probably done a lot of good (hell, he’s saved the universe plenty of times, hasn’t he?) just because I have decided I don’t like him.

Maybe you were able to relate to me a bit by going on this journey, seeing the reasoning behind my beliefs. Maybe, reader, even if you like Batman, you can empathize with me a bit by seeing things from my perspective. You can relate to me.

So all I’m saying is: really ask yourself what you love or hate in a person. Let them have positive traits, and have them acknowledge their negative. A flawed character can still be plenty likeable if they (on some level) can acknowledge their flaws and show signs of character growth with every encounter.

Make your character flawed, but ask yourself what about that character readers might be able to relate to. And show them that. Let us empathize with them even when their negative traits start to rear their ugly heads.


Let Them Be Awkward

Photo of an awkward woman standing around with a drink

Speaking of relatability, there are few things more relatable than having an awkward moment, or an awkward encounter. Maybe your character has an ex who moved on without them, and they end up in an embarrassing situation right in front of the ex and their new beau. Or maybe they have a big interview that could prove pivotal for their career, and everything that could possibly go wrong, does go wrong.

The situation, of course, will heavily depend on the kind of story you’re writing and the different kinds of shenanigans your characters might get into. If you’re writing a fantasy story, perhaps your character loses control of their magic in front of their peers. If you’re writing a sci-fi, maybe your superhero character gets their ass kicked by another superhero in training. Or they absolutely botch a critical mission, and now everyone else has to clean up their mess.

It’s important not just to kill your darlings, but also embarrass them. A lot.

There’s this really cool speculative fiction blog, Mythcreants, that coined a term that I think works really well here: spinach versus candy. Humiliation comes in the form of spinach, and glory in the form of candy.

If you want to write a flawed character who isn’t annoying, start them off with spinach. Lots of it. Seriously, it’s good for them. They need to eat their spinach. And if they do so graciously, then they are ready to have some dessert: candy. Good vibes. Moments of validation.

It’s important to know how to balance these things so your character doesn’t come off as too perfect, but also not so annoying that we can’t empathize with them. It’s a judgment call that you as the writer have to make. It’s not just “kill your darlings,” but “humiliate your darlings” too. Humble them, scare them, put them through the kinds of scenarios that will give the reader second hand embarrassment. Then empower them. Show the reader moments of realization and growth. That, I think, is the key to making a lovable character, flaws and all.


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By The Angry Noodle

Bryanna Gary is the founder of The Angry Noodle. She is very smol and noodly, and also dipped in pasta sauce.

One thought on “How to Write a Flawed Character Without Making Them Annoying”
  1. This is another very helpful article for me specifically. Annoying characters are an (I believe) under-represented demographic in my stories–usually being limited to brief background roles.

    “It’s important not just to kill your darlings, but also embarrass them. A lot.” is my big take away from this article and something I’ll meditate on.

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