Thorn in the Flesh - Every Character Needs One | The Engrafted WordEvery character needs one.

Call it whatever you like. The Achilles’ heel. Superman’s Kryptonite. A Thorn in the flesh. Every character you write will need a weakness. Probably even more than one. Whether it’s the heroine or the villain, keep them human.

Here are 3 primary categories that weaknesses or infirmities naturally fall under – 3 questions to ask yourself. Be selective in which one(s) you decide to give your characters. They will inevitably shape the rest of your story.

Is it a Spiritual Problem?

Nothing rules a person – real or fictional – like their spiritual condition. A spiritual weakness is often rooted in some sin or another. Maybe your character is battling against lust or pride. Perhaps he’s struggling with unbelief or ruled by jealousy. Trust is a popular one. Bitterness is another. Think about your own spiritual weaknesses and how often they lead you into sin. In my personal opinion, a spiritual battle within a character is the deepest one. It honestly depicts our depravity and usually results in celebrating the victories we can win through Christ.

Is it a Mental Problem?

The thorn in the flesh may not always be visible. Your character may be fighting an emotional battle with the past. She may have been emotionally abused as a child and struggling with insecurities. There could be irrational paranoia in one carrying a deathly secret, a sudden memory loss that complicates their lives, or a dangerous thirst for revenge. Use the character’s inner conflict of emotions to govern their actions, good and bad.

Is it a Physical Problem?[pullquote]Introduce your readers to someone who is vulnerable and in need of something.[/pullquote]

This could include multiple, diverse complaints. For example, your character may not be a fast runner. A complicated flaw it is not, but you can be sure it will come into play if you write a scene where he’s being chased down an abandoned gravel road by a crazed bounty hunter. See how one flaw can steal the show? Or maybe a beloved character must face an illness or disability. Perhaps it’s poor eyesight, lack of education, a tendency to faint under pressure, or simply a reoccurring headache. Just get those wheels spinning!

Almost anything has the potential of adding layers to your story and intriguing your readers to ask questions. It can be a funny coincidence, a frightening predicament, or a humbling self-discovery. Strive to introduce your readers to someone who is vulnerable and in need of something.

Go one step further and ask yourself if this weakness is the character’s fault or not. Did they bring this upon themselves? For example, are they deliberately feeding the lust for someone or something they can’t have? Are they pridefully – and blindly – going against what someone told them to?

Or is their “thorn in the flesh” by accident? Did a surprising disease throw their life’s plan off course? Did they invite the problem in or were they just dealt a difficult hand? By answering these questions differently, you’ll discover endless possibilities. And don’t go for the first obvious flaw either. Give it some serious time. The underlying lesson of your entire story rests in this.

In the example of Paul, we read in 2 Corinthians 12: 7-9 that he was given a thorn in the flesh, “Lest I should be exalted above measure.” He then sought the Lord to remove it.

He said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

Just as Paul learned from his thorn in the flesh, so can our characters and ultimately our readers as well.

We all have our flaws. The question is how will we – and our characters – handle them.

Thorn in the Flesh - Every Character Needs One | The Engrafted Word


What is your character’s Achilles’ heel?  How has that shaped your story?

Has a thorn in your flesh taught you an important lesson?