Roger in Jo Nesbo’s novel, Headhunters is an example of an unsympathetic character with a compelling goal: he’s being pursued by a super-human killer and he wants to stay alive. Why do I care? Roger, for all his faults, is a smart man and he tries with every gram of resourcefulness he can conjure to stay alive. I had to admire him.
Back to flaws: alcoholism and substance abuse has been done again and again, so if you’re willing to take my advice, think of something different. Lionel Essrog in Lethem’s Motherless Brooklyn is a perfect example of a flawed character. He’s resourceful, smart, goal driven, and totally handicapped by Tourette syndrome. I loved Lionel and stole time to finish reading his story.
What’s your character’s flaw? Make a list of 50 flaws. By the thirteenth, I predict you’ll be getting into some fascinating territory. Remember, you have to live with this condition during the writing of an entire novel so make it something you’re interested in and have sympathy for.
Once you have your flawed character make sure your other characters react to the flaw. Do they poke fun at your character, do they dismiss him? How does your character react to their derision? Does he get angry? Depressed? It’s in these interactions that your characters come to life. It’s magic, it really is.