In the writing biz, “boring” is the opposite of “interesting” and every authority I know of says authors of fiction should resist the temptation to create a perfect lead character. Perfect is boring, they say. Indiana Jones suffered a snake phobia. Hercule Poirot was a conceited dandy (so said Agatha Christie).
Like a lot of absolute advice, this has an interesting hole in it. Jesus of Nazareth was perfect (if we believe what the Bible says). But whether we believe that or not, he definitely was not boring. Read the Bible’s four Gospels for the story. He was well-liked by everyone until the start of his ministry, but then—on the first day—he got the people of his town so angry that they hustled him out of the synagogue to throw him off a cliff. Little more than three years later, at the end of his ministry, the authorities in Jerusalem were so angry with him that in one day they arrested, tried, and executed him—all of it done illegally.
In between those troubles, Jesus walked on water, healed many, and fed thousands. He often wanted to be alone, but crowds sought him out every day everywhere he went—and he traveled a lot. He ate with followers, Pharisees, tax collectors, and sinners. He talked kindly to soldiers, prostitutes, and children. He wept over Jerusalem. He got angry and threw furniture around to protest commercialization in the temple. We are not told whether he laughed, but I can’t imagine that he didn’t.
Of course, Jesus is unique. The point is that “perfect” is not synonymous with boring. He angered important religious authorities. And conflict is absolutely essential to any story worth reading. But necessary conflict may arise from problems or troubles posed by Nature or bad luck or other things….
In his essay, The Novels of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis wrote: “Good characters in fiction are the very devil.” He writes that in fiction we are suspicious of good people. But we accept them in strange circumstances when the author is skilled in the presentation, and especially because of what is left out. Some stories, like Alice in Wonderland and Gulliver’s Travels, can't be told unless the protagonist has no flaws that pertain to the plot or theme. Alice’s and Gulliver’s flaws are irrelevant. Revealing them would weaken the stories.
On the other side of that coin, the story of Jesus Christ has great appeal because the protagonist’s perfection leads to his death. It makes no difference whether a story is true or not, because readers can choose to believe that any story—even a true one—is fiction. So, it is definitely possible to create thoroughly interesting stories without giving the protagonist nasty or evil flaws.
For authors of fiction, the take-away from this is that if a story requires a protagonist with no relevant flaws, then we should tell it that way. Don't invent flaws just because the literary authorities say we must. Flaws should pertain to the plot or characterizations because most readers can spot one thrown in for other reasons and it weakens or destroys the story.
When inventing or assigning flaws, it is important to distinguish two kinds.
The fundamental kind of flaw is when people break the Golden Rule by doing something to others which they would not want done to themselves. (Or they won’t do something for others that they would want done for themselves.) This is a moral flaw, the kind which new authors often think editors want them to insert in a story.
The second kind—the superficial flaw—is real but fake. It is real because it leads to conflict, but it is fake because it’s not a flaw. Conflicts are often a struggle of one characteristic against its opposite: Warrior versus Pacifist. Epicurean versus Stoic. Men versus Women. Tight-fisted versus Generous, and so on and on. Each opposing pair has humans of one side or the other, or who tend one way or the other. Every society has—and needs—both of each characteristic even though extremists may call the other side bad or evil. Extremes of such opposite characteristics are excellent sources for conflicts that are neither fundamentally good nor evil (unless the Golden Rule is broken, which makes it a fundamental conflict).
No matter which flaws an author selects, or whether they are fundamental or superficial, their out-working should advance the story and/or illustrate the theme. If a character keeps the Golden Rule, though, it is probably a good idea to not mention it. A protagonist can have perfection as required by the story, and when an author writes well, readers with no lit-biz hat on will accept that absence of moral flaws. They will enjoy the conflicts, whether based on extremes or misunderstandings or other differences. A Romance novel relies mostly on superficial flaws because fundamental ones lead to the conflicts we see in Thrillers or Cozy Mysteries, such as when one lover cheats on the other and gets murdered for it.
Of course, there is far more to an interesting story than character flaws and conflict, so, whatever we write, make it thoroughly (I won’t say perfectly) interesting. But that’s for another essay.