It seems to be a thing where either a character is flawless or they have huge character flaws that are glaring and obvious to everyone. Sherlock Holmes is a drug addict and in the new version on BBC a sociopath, to go with his brilliance. Professor Champion (the character Sir Arthur Conan Doyle preferred to Holmes) was flawless, perfect in every way.
What about characters with subtle flaws? That tends to be reserved for literary fiction. In literary it’s okay to have a protagonist who is depressed and hasn’t really figured herself out. It’s also okay to have a character with a big flaw, but not an equally big advantage. In Girl, Interrupted the protagonist isn’t a genius, although she is bright, and she has the rather glaring flaw of untreated and mostly unrecognized (by her) borderline personality disorder. In fact, in literary fiction, the flaw often defines the character.
I’m thinking about this right now because the story I’m writing is literary fiction and the main character isn’t a genius, he’s a pretty average guy. His flaw is lack of conviction, lack of initiative. He usually goes where people direct him, and the main journey of the story is his gradual acceptance of that fact about him, after paying the price for it. In the end, he has to make the changes to himself, has to acknowledge who he really is. That’s the arc of the story, and the events that him down that path are there because of who he is. If he was someone else, a fighter, a person who takes action, he would have avoided most of the issues he faces.
I want to try and introduce more of that kind of character trait into my genre work… well, maybe not the Paranormal Teen Romance I have planned, but the rest of it.