I've been playing in the NaNo novel with character flaws, how to expose them without making the character out to be a total wuss, or without it looking like "Insert Flaw Here" school of writing. I'm finding out that some things I thought were attributes could also be a flaw in my characters. One main character is confident, self reliant, and insists his way is best. Often, he's right, but most of the other characters view him as arrogant.
Then I have to spend time pondering, is arrogance a flaw? If so, how can I exploit it? How can I use it to bring him down? What if the character doesn't really listen to those around him, because he is used to being right? What happens when he's wrong? Would he ever admit it? And to whom?
This is how I discovered the problem with my female protagonist. She has flaws, but most of them are due to age and inexperience. How to make her have a flaw that will figure into the book, color her interactions with the main character, and still keep her sympathetic? I decided she has built in sympathy from others; her child was kidnapped for nefarious purposes. They would understand the pain she is going through. The problem is she doesn't seem very pained by it. Then I realized her daughter is half divine. Still a child, still able to die, but somehow that has translated into the female protagonist having an underlying sense that it will all work out. After all, her child is part god, and has gotten out of scrapes before.
It's hard to write the mother's worry continuously; it would be a drag of a story, so I bought what this character is selling. She is confident her child is okay, because the father of the child keeps assuring her of that. When a god tells you not to worry, he must know things are okay. Right?
Hmm. I decided it was better to show the mother's worry in that one scene where she finds out her daughter is missing. This is where having kids comes in handy. I only have to recall the time one of them wandered away from me in a store and couldn't be found. Every worse case scenario, every horrid possibility ran through my mind in the 15 minutes it took to find him. Remember the alien in Alien that burst through the guy's chest? That's what it felt like. And when you get your child back? The child wasn't worried at all, he knew his mother would find and rescue him. Confidence is a nifty companion to guilt.
My female protagonist has lots to feel guilty about. She's hiding things from the child's father. She hides things from the man who promises to rescue her daughter in return for marriage. She does what she has to do to ensure the safe return of her child. Consequences of her actions? She's trying really hard not to think about them, because then she would be paralyzed into inaction. Her one goal at this time is to recover her daughter, after that, when reality crashes in, she'll deal with it. Or not.
Focus and determination. Are they attributes or flaws? Depends on where the character is standing when her world comes crashing down.