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"Character Flaws"

by Mark O'Bannon


Character Flaws
Character Flaws

Why do people like Han Solo more than Luke Skywalker? Why are some characters more popular than others?
What makes a character interesting? Why are villains sometimes more fascinating than the heroes?

How can you create a hypnotic like attraction in your readers for your the characters in your story?

A story is about a character who is trying to solve a problem. Along the way, the character will encounter an opponent who is striving for the same goal, creating conflict. This is all well and good, but how do you create an emotional story? How do you create a character arc? In the beginning of a story, a character will be broken somehow, and at the end of the story that same character will be whole. How is this done?

Emotional Storytelling
In many ways, a story is a way to experience emotions through other people - the characters in your story. Every story runs along two separate tracks: The SPINE of the story, and the HEART of the story. One is about the DESIRE of the character, the other is about the NEED of the character. One track deals with the OUTER MOTIVATION, the other deals with INNER MOTIVATION.

To make your characters fascinating, to create an emotional story, give them a weakness.

Character Weakness
Emotional storytelling is all about the NEED of the character. The need describes how the character is broken at the beginning of the story. The need to change forms the basis of the character arc. The need comes from a main character flaw, or a weakness.

There are two kinds of character flaws:
A Psychological Weakness - This is a character trait within the hero which is destorying his life. Think of pride, cowardice, vengeance, and distrust.

A Moral Weakness - This is a character flaw that harms the main character and also other people. So when designing a flaw for your hero, ask yourself, "How is this harming other people?" and "How is the hero living at the expense of others?"

A weakness is not a disease, like alcoholism or drug addiction. It is a choice. Being an alcoholic might be the result of a weakness. Be careful in defining your hero's flaw. Is the weakness you have in mind a symptom or the true cause?

A character flaw might also be something "good" like too much generosity, having too much love for one's family, or the love of freedom at any cost. To turn a positive trait into a character flaw, think of how it might harm the character and how it could hurt other people.

Give your villains "positive" weaknesses and see what happens. This kind of writing will immediately make your story more interesting.

What is Han Solo's weakness? "What good is a reward if you ain't around to use it?"

What is Boromir's weakness? "I ask only for the strength to defend my people!"

What is Sam Spade's weaknesses? "We didn't exactly believe your story, Miss O'Shaughnessy. We believed your 200 dollars. I mean, you paid us more than if you had been telling us the truth, and enough more to make it all right."

Hypnotic Like Attraction
The way to create a hypnotic-like attraction for the characters in your story, give your hero character flaws. Use this weakness as the basis of the entire emotional story.

A character flaw will lead to a final Self-Revelation at the end of the story, where the hero's flaw is revealed and this will lead to character change. The character flaws will not be apparent to the hero at the beginning of the story. The weakness will gradually be revealed during the story, through actions taken by the hero in his quest to overcome the opponent. The opponent should "attack" the hero's weakness, bringing out character flaws in the hero.

If your tale is a Traveling Angel Story, the main character won't change. Instead, someone else will overcome a weakness. Remember the old Kung Fu TV show? Caine was a traveling angel character.

Be careful not to destroy your character. Your hero should be admirable in some way. Han Solo is a scoundrel, but we like him because deep down, we know he's a decent person. We love him because he's as flawed as the rest of us. The goal is to make your hero more likeable than not.

Action Steps
Take these steps with every story you write:

1. Give you hero a main character flaw - Demonstrate it through the character's actions.

2. Multiple Flaws - Give your hero more than one weakness.

3. Moral Weakness - Give your hero a moral weakness and show how others are harmed by it.

4. Flawed Opponents - Give your opponents weaknesses too.

5. Revelations - During the story, gradually reveal the character flaws more and more through the actions of the hero.

6. Expose the Weakness - At the end of the story, the main character flaw should be fully exposed to the hero.

7. Moral Choice - Find a way to create some kind of moral choice related to the character's flaw.

8. Character Change - Demonstrate how the character has changed at the end.

What to do now
Character flaws form the wellspring of the story because they are used to create the emotional side of your story. Not all characters have them, but any story is made stronger by giving your hero flaws.

We all love seeing broken characters overcome their flaws. See what happens when you use flawed characters in your story. Aren't they more interesting?

 

- Mark O'Bannon

 


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