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Flaws Every Day

Banes at 12:00AM, Feb. 25, 2021
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We're always advising people to give their characters flaws. But why? Is it just so they'll be relatable and not perfect/boring?

That is a good reason, for sure.

Is it so you'll know how they're supposed to react in certain situations?
“I wrote in my notebook that Jenny is impatient. She oughtta start yelling and honking her horn at the traffic light!”

That's getting closer to it I think, but even more importantly, the flaws are important because they get in the way of what your character WANTS in the story, and NEEDS in their soul.

Recognizing and then learning to overcome their flaws IS the story, in a way. You have to know what your character wants more than anything (to be a fighter pilot, to be with the romantic partner of their dreams, to win the Uno championship, whatever).

And to have a deeper level, you need to know the NEED inside them as well - the need to grow up in some way, or to stop believing the lie they've been living with, or to heal the wound that's stopping them from being who they're supposed to be. The flaws are probably a result of the wound (or caused the wound in the first place, sometime in the past).

Then you give them the flaw - the big thing that's holding them back from getting what they need or what they want. The character might not even know it exists in the beginning of the story. They most likely don't. They'll learn!

Overcoming their inner flaws is what gives your stories real juice, and lifts the hearts of your readers.


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anonymous?

usedbooks at 4:35PM, Feb. 25, 2021

Good point @marcorossi ! Stories that have "flawless" characters whose flaw is that they are an asshole (House, Sherlock Holmes, James Bond) are actually pretty successful. But audience/readers react to them differently. You aren't really rooting for them. You know they are going to succeed. They literally never fail. Some of them have a seed of hope that they will meet some challenge that teaches them humility. Sometimes, you just enjoy the action like an amusement park ride and are amused by the quips and comfortable because you know exactly how the story will play out. There's some room for that sort of thing. But if your character isn't fallible, they should be entertaining.

Avart at 3:13PM, Feb. 25, 2021

Excellent post @Banes! I agree, a Mary Sue or Gary Stu character is so boring, I mean, even if they are in a difficult situation there's no doubt they will overcome it (and in a flashy way). I remember the first Tomb Raider movies, Angelina Jolie's was so f*cking boring that it ruins the movie (even more IMO). @hushicho, @bravo, @usedbooks and @marcorossi have great opinions too.

marcorossi at 10:09AM, Feb. 25, 2021

@Banes - this is part of it, but I think it works better for positive moral traits, e.g. if Joe is brave but weak. But in some cases it might be a case of power fantasy, that people like to immedesimate with character who are strong and destined to win. E.g. Harry Potter is a poor kid mistreated by his family but has superpowers and he is actually very strong VS his peers, the novels wouldn't be as entertaining if we didn't expect him to smash his enemies at some point; Cinderella is super beautiful etc.

Banes at 6:30AM, Feb. 25, 2021

@marcorossi - Interesting! My first thought is the good qualities are what actually makes the characters relatable and believable, and maybe more importantly, makes us WANT them to win. We root for the people/characters we like. Someone with no good qualities/only defects: why would we care whether they win? We'd want the dragon to eat them. Some unlikable horror characters and some indie drama/comedy characters fall into this category. We don't care enough about them to follow their story.

marcorossi at 5:33AM, Feb. 25, 2021

"Overcoming their inner flaws is what gives your stories real juice, and lifts the hearts of your readers." This I do understand; what I don't understand is what is the purpose of the good traits. For example, suppose that I have a story where Joe is strong but he is a coward, and he has to defeat a dragon. I understand the logic of Joe being a coward because this way he can become brave (character arc) and in the end win, but what is the purpose of Joe being strong? If we follow the logic to the extreme, wouldn't it be better to have heroes who only have defects?

usedbooks at 4:44AM, Feb. 25, 2021

It is shorthand for saying "make your characters dynamic." Unchanging characters are boring. And "perfect" characters have no reason to change. Failure and constant learning is a core part of human experience. So characters that never change are not relatable. In essence, they aren't characters. They are props. The computer in War Games BECAME a character the moment it was able to "learn." (Basically, what hushicho said.)

bravo1102 at 4:08AM, Feb. 25, 2021

Remember even being flawless can be a flaw in someone's character. The "You're just too perfect" trope.

hushicho at 2:35AM, Feb. 25, 2021

However you do it, the thing I think makes a character interesting is them going through some development. It doesn't necessarily take flaws, though they are a way to do that. Even highly-capable and experienced characters who are well-adjusted can still develop, and sometimes the story of them experiencing something can be fascinating. Most of all, it should add something to the character's existence, whatever it ends up being. Mary Sue characters are often so uninteresting because no experience really enriches or develops them, and their flaws tend to be carefully manufactured. I think those are things to be careful of in characters!


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