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Everyone of the above statements/words imply one thing…flaws. We have flaws. Each and everyone one of us has flaws. Some flaws are physical while other flaws are internal. The point is in order to make a believable and relatable character(s) s/he must have flaws. In a later post we will review flaws that take things too far, but for now we will look at creating flawless flaws for our characters. If you create a character that is smart, beautiful, talented, well liked, makes great decisions all the time, has a wonderful home and job, great friends, volunteers at ten different programs, manages their finances with finesse …well, your readers will not only be unable to relate to them, they will actually hate them. Every person, no matter how “perfect” they seem has flaws and it is this flaw or flaws readers want to see or they will put down your book.
The question then is how do you create a flaw that develops enough conflict. Conflict is the critical word in this character equation. A strong story is the sum of conflict and the best flaws. So what is the best flaws? What will give you the strongest conflict?
Physical traits, though a flaw and do trip some of us up, they can be overcome a lot easier than internal flaws. Therefore, let’s look at the flaws that are internal.
Psychological Flaws– if you choose this type of flaw then your protagonist will battle a flaw that has the potential to destroy them. Think of the 7 deadly sins, but especially pride, envy, anger, gluttony and slothfulness (plus other flaws such as cowardice, vengeance, and distrust.)
Moral Flaws – are flaws that harm the protagonist as well as other characters in the story. Think of these three of the 7 deadly sins, lust, anger and greed. A good question to ask yourself when deciding upon a Moral flaw is, “Will this flaw hurt others?”
A word of caution here. Not all flaws are “bad”. Some flaws are – too much of a good thing. For example, loving your family too much can lead to possessiveness or overprotectiveness. Being a generous person can lead to giving away all you own, giving too much time to others, or being taken advantage of by others. Therefore, consider how this “good” flaw might harm/hurt others and now you have a good conflict.
If protagonists have negative flaws that causes conflict, so must our antagonist have “good” flaws that cause them conflict. Just as we are all created with flaws that weaken us, so are all villains are born with positive flaws that weaken them. Therefore, apply the same questioning when developing your antagonist’s flaws. By creating flaws for both your antagonist and your protagonist you ensure you will create a more interesting story.
(For some fun, check out this Character Flaw Generator. Just don’t get caught up generating and clicking and forgetting to get creating…on the page.)
But, creating flaws in your characters is not enough to make the story interesting.
As readers and writers we understand the main character (protagonist) of a story must in some internal (and perhaps external) way change. This process of growth and metamorphism transpires over the pages of the novel. It is a slow process, much like life. Little by little the trials, the triumphs, the struggles, the pain, the joy and the confusion we experience carve out who we are. And, we are not who we once were but have moved, shifted and grown as an individual. So must the protagonist. I don’t know of a reader who wants the lead character to be exactly the same as they were on the last page as they were on the first page of the novel. If this were so I believe, as a reader, we would feel chipped, mad even. A mad reader is every bit like a woman scorned and, you know what they say about a woman scorned, don’t you? Hell has no fury like a woman scorned! Now imagine a reader who is scorned. Yikes! Add to that many readers scorned and you are asking for the apocalypse! So take it from me, HFA writer, be sure to give your protagonist a critical flaw, maybe even a fatal flaw (Cue scary music and screams!) but allow your character to change over the course of the story.
A flawless Character Flaw takes time to develop and attention to the internal conflicts of a character that result in external conflict in the story.
Until Next Time!