1. BecauseIWasBored
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    BecauseIWasBored New Member

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    Character Flaws

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by BecauseIWasBored, Jul 10, 2010.

    Okay, it's obvious that every good character needs to have a couple flaws, otherwise they seem flat and one dimensional.

    One thing I've noticed though is that there are a few character traits that people don't consider to be flaws, like a bad temper or clumsiness. For some reason quite a few people don't see those traits as being "real flaws." :confused:

    Here's my question: Is there any personality flaws that you wouldn't consider to be "real flaws," no matter how they were portrayed?
     
  2. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    That's just the thing.

    There are no absolutes in writing (hehehe). A character who ranks at 105 on the Mary Sue Litmus Test can still be a great character to read about. An action sequence can have the hero and villain duking it out with laser pistols, chainsaws and laser swords on the edge of a chasm while battleships explode in the sky above them and dragons once again erupt from the earth to reclaim their former territory and it can still be boring. A sequence where a character drinks the stale remnants of a high priest's urine can be written with grace and elegance so that it doesn't register as disgusting.

    Any trait can be a flaw. Bravery leads to recklesness, spitfire personality leads to aggression, carefulness leads to sloth or cowardice. Beauty can become victimhood or huntedness. Survivalism can become fanaticism. Even clumsiness can become a crippling flaw, if played properly.

    Writing shows us that anything can become anything else. A flaw is revealed as such when a trait- an ordinary trait, like honour or courage or honesty- leads to disaster and the character decides to fix it.

    Many people equate "flaw" with "sin," or at least stick a fairly major link between the two, when no such link exists- flaws are not evil, nor are they inherently bad things. Flaws are weaknesses that cause characters to have trouble that they would not have if they did not have that weakness. To be a flaw, it has to be something that the story shows to be a weakness. A stated weakness is not a weakness of the story does not use it.
     
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  3. JTheGreat
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    JTheGreat Contributing Member

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    I don't know what people you're talking to, because I see temper as a huge flaw.

    But, like B-Gas said, it all depends on how the author depicts said trait.
     
  4. BecauseIWasBored
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    BecauseIWasBored New Member

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    Exactly, it does depend on the author's portrayal. Which is why I don't really understand why some people don't consider some traits to be "flaws" when a trait is obviously a problem.

    I somewhat can understand why people would think that way though. More than once I've seen situations where clumsiness was only used to make the character seem more endearing instead of being an actual hindrance.

    I remember reading an essay someone wrote about Mary Sues, and there was a paragraph about characters needing flaws. One example was clumsiness. Browsing through the comments, one or two said: "Clumsiness isn't a flaw"

    The bad temper thing I think is more about it being a trait that's commonly used rather than not being a flaw. I met a few people who said a bad temper wasn't a flaw though. Then again, I also met someone who said I couldn't be an artist because I wasn't "tragic enough."

    But as B-Gas said before, it depends on how the trait is used. Heck, not being able to play the banjo could be a flaw if it's in the right context.

    I don't know, I'm pretty sure this would still sound nasty no matter how beautifully written. XD
     
  5. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    It was in American Gods, by Neil Gaiman. Four characters share this drink, which is made from the aforementioned fluid- the priest(ess) in question consumed a large quantity of hallucinogenic mushrooms beforehand. It's how this particular tribe of people- of which these four are the leaders- connects with their god, who is a mammoth skull. After consuming it, they stand inside the skull and don the cloak and the god speaks through them.

    The main thing is, it was written in a simple, matter-of-fact style that stated that this is what they did, because it is how the act is done. Rather than focusing on describing the taste or smell, the author just sets it out there. It's quite effective.
     
  6. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    A flaw isn't something about the character, it is something about how the character interact with the story.

    A flaw is not a flaw before it start giving the character negative consequences in the story. A flaw that never effects things for the worse isn't a flaw, it is just make up trying to cover a Supermans and Mary Sues.
     
  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I don't like the word 'flaw'. It's negative in its tone, implying judgment. Characters have individual priorities and other traits that drive their choices. In a particular instance, the choice that is made has undesired consequences, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's a bad choice. The otyer choicxes may be equally bad, or whether the choice is bad may differ depending on who is evaluating it.

    For example, someone may consider stubbornness a flaw. In another context, they may call it standing firm on his principles. Indecisiveness may be relabelled flexibility.

    Make sure you see traits from all appropriate angles.
     
  8. w176
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    w176 Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree wholeheartedly. The whole flaw-reasoning is a two part discussion. One part being that the character should face negative consequence because his own actions and who he are. The second part is that a character shouldn't be someone 100% admirable, every fibre of his being perfect.

    I think these two parts are independent. It do not have to be the unadmirable sides of him that cause the negative consequences.
     
  9. BecauseIWasBored
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    BecauseIWasBored New Member

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    I see what you mean. I never thought of it that way; you learn something new everyday. Thank you.
     
  10. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    Clumsiness may or may not be a flaw for a certain character. It all depends on the story.

    If someone is a skilled hunter or a spy and they have to be quiet but they always fumble around and crash into things, it'd be a problem.

    On the other hand, if it's an obnoxious character whose clumsiness is seen as cutesy by all the other characters, readers will hate it.
     
  11. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    I personally think that you can get away with making a character "perfect". This usually won't work for the main characters, but for some minor characters on the side it might just work. For example, have you ever known anyone in life who you see as perfect? In our hearts, we know they're not perfect, but these people certainly don't show it to any of us. Some people are very good at covering up their flaws. They live such a life that people don't notice a single flaw in them (until they get to know them better). The reason why this is possible is because we humans can't look at the heart. It is in the heart that things like selfishness, hate, vanity, pride, etc live, and it can be so easy to disquise it. Has anyone ever read, "The Cask of Amontillado"? It is a short story that basically involves this man luring another man down into the catacombs, only to murder him in the end, aka, bury him alive. He kept on such an act, that the other man had no idea that he was leading him to his death. Yes, he seemed like such a good guy, but it was only because you read the story from the murderer's perspective that you are able to see what his intentions really are.

    It is the same in life. Someone may appear perfect, but it is only after we come to really know them that we start to see their flaws. If the characters in your story are around a lot, the reader has to start seeing the flaws.

    This is especially true for the main character. A lot of new writers tend to base the main character on themselves, the kind of person he/she wants to be. Of course, the consequence of that is the character may end up being a little too perfect. It is, afterall, a more perfect version of yourself.

    As was mentioned,
    At the same time, use flaws that are real. Don't only give your character things like beauty, or intelligence, that get them into trouble. Yes, they may be considered flaws that cause problems, but no one wants to read about "perfect" flaws. Instead, make the problem something that really people have trouble with. Vanity and pride could result from beauty and intelligence. Let the reader be able to connect with the character and say, "Hey, I totally understand why they are like that." When things go wrong because of those flaws, then perhaps the reader might come away with something from the book other than, "That was a fun story."

    *about the quote I used, though flaws don't equal sin, certain flaws lead to sin. That is actually how those flaws are discovered in the first place. If someone overcomes the flaw, then people won't notice it. Because of that, in order for the reader to see the flaw, your character needs to sin in a way that exposes the flaw.
     
  12. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    So, in literary terms, a "flaw" is anything that limits a character's ability? Being a prejudiced sadist is not a flaw, as long as it doesn't affect the character's ability to overcome the obstacles set before him/her?
     
  13. Evelyanin
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    Evelyanin Senior Member

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    Even someone with a lot of flaws can still complete a task. You can't deny that those flaws are going to effect the outcome. Everything we do has a consequence, and those flaws will effect what we do. If someone happens to have a flaw that willl not have an effect on the outcome, than that flaw does not need to be mentioned. However, these kind of flaws are few and far between. I have no doubt that being a prejudiced sadist will effect the outcome, even if the character accomplishes his goal.
     
  14. Islander
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    Islander Contributing Member Contributor

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    But some things which are normally considered flaws may actually help the character achieve their goals. A conqueror or politician will be helped by ruthlessness and a thirst for power. Is it then considered a flaw or not, in literary terms?
     
  15. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    I'd consider that sort of quality a flaw if it overwhelms the character or dooms him. For the classic example: Shakespeare's Hamlet is downright brilliant. In another situation--in practically any other situation--this would be an advantage. However, in the situation in which he finds himself, he can't stop thinking, questioning, re-evaluating. He does it when he should be taking action. (When he does take action, he screws it up, killing Polonius.) In that, his positive quality--his intelligence--becomes a flaw.

    For ruthlessness or aspiration, you might look at Macbeth or Julius Caesar respectively. If the goals achieved aren't enough, or aren't "right" for the story, the quality becomes a flaw. This isn't really a new point, but it bears repeating, I guess!
     
  16. BecauseIWasBored
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    BecauseIWasBored New Member

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    I don't if a character flaw is something that "dooms" a character, that sounds more like a tragic flaw.

    But I can see what Islander's trying to say though. It seems like a flaw doesn't necessarily hinder the character's goals (like a politician gaining power from his ruthlessness) but has the potential to be a problem.

    Let's say there's a character who's a compulsive liar, for instance. Obviously, there are a lot of ways the character could get into trouble because of this trait. At the same time though, being a compulsive liar could help him get out of difficult situations.

    I think that's what people have been saying. I hope that made sense...
     
  17. Aconite
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    Aconite Senior Member

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    You're probably closer re. tragic flaw, but I think the semantics all get garbled anyway. Still, that would be an example where a positive or even a neutral trait (I don't think ambition is either good or bad) becomes a flaw through the plot, though. And in your example, a negative trait (compulsive lying) becomes positive. If you're a compulsive liar and a spy (provided your compulsive lies are internally consistent), you might do well. Basically, same thing, different examples! ;)
     
  18. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think that what qualifies as a flaw depends on the reasons for needing flaws. For me, the main reasons are:

    - Perfection is boring. Anything that would make people stare at the character all glassy-eyed and adoring is dangerous and needs to be handled with care.

    - Lack of struggle is boring. Anything that means that the character marches through difficulties that would halt normal men in their tracks is similarly dangerous.

    And for me, the third factor is:

    - Grandeur is boring. The higher a character is raised out of the ordinary people of his or her world, the more boring I find him or her. A general? Dull. The crown prince? Duller. One of the gods? Too dull to even contemplate reading the book. A bartender? Now we're talking.
     
  19. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    I think what's more interesting is that traditionally "positive" traits can become flaws as well, if the story proves them to be flaws. Bravery and chivalry, for example, can prevent a character from retreating from an ambush or from attacking the female warlock. Being a genuinely honest person can be crippling when telling the truth will get your friends killed. And even really sweet, gentle traits like compassion and empathy- they can get you into real danger for pointless reasons.

    A flaw, in my book, is a trait that can be exploited to hurt the character by a clever use of circumstance, either by the plot of the book or by a devilishly clever- or observant- antagonist (or protagonist). It doesn't necessarily hold them back. But it does make things worse for them- if someone can exploit it. It's a flaw. A hole in the armor. A place of weakness.

    Superman has a flaw, and it's not a crippling weakness to Kryptonite. He's compassionate and has many friends. You can't hurt him or sway him, but you can break the kneecaps of his best friends and burn down their houses. Hold a gun to Lois Lane and you can make him do whatever you want.
     
  20. afrodite7
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    afrodite7 Senior Member

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    make the flaw actually give the character problems,affect their relationships with people and what they do ,just don't make it over the top unless there's a reason.like a clumsy character may lack confidence or they could be spacey and not always pay attention.

    a person with a bad temper might be dissatisfied with their life or something in their life.

    my two lead characters got some serious problems; the male lead is obsessive and sometimes passive aggressive and the female is detached but possessive.

    somehow they manage to love each other ,but it gets kinda unhealthy sometimes.
     
  21. mummymunt
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    mummymunt Member

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    Slightly off-topic here, but thank you for saying that! I am ridiculously indecisive, but you've just made me feel much better about it :D
     
  22. Jones6192
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    Jones6192 Member

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    The best characters have at least one flaw-sorry, trait-that shows they aren't perfect and are therefore human. So I agree with the belief that the more complicated the character, the more real and memorable they become.
     
  23. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't think we should really be thinking in terms of flaws at all... Any character with a personality of any sort is going to be automatically flawed... Not in a pessimistic way commenting on the crappiness of people or anything, but just because it is impossible for a character to be flawless. Unless someone is working with the most blatant Mary Sue in a ridiculous plot, they'll instinctively not make everything go their character's way, because that's what's INTERESTING, and that immediately is where a character is tested... Of course then their personality is interacting with the plot, and that's where their individuality comes out, and their flaws and traits and anything else they have are used.

    Sitting down and thinking, "I need to make this character more flawed" never ever works. You can maybe think, "they are like this" but you can't force more onto them because you think they might be too dull or at an advantage or something. The only thing to do is to write them, and see how their personality appears as you write, and use the clues you've given yourself to understand them so when they are tried you know how they'll react, whether it's because of a huge flaw or anything else that is what they're made up of.

    Eh, don't like either deciding a character's personality based on the plot OR deciding they should just HAVE flaws. People are people and to write one personality different from the next is to automatically give them a whole life, complete with such things. *shrugs*
     
  24. Trilby
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    Trilby Contributing Member Contributor

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    A sequence where a character drinks the stale remnants of a high priest's urine can be written with grace and elegance so that it doesn't register as disgusting.

    How?:confused:
     
  25. Naiyn
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    Naiyn Contributing Member

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    When I hear (or read) about "flaws" I immediatly think in terms of physical limitations, such as, oh, say... a character who was born without elbows. (just imagine for a moment how much that would suck :eek:)

    But when it comes to personalities and behavior, it's nearly impossible to define anyone by their strengths and flaws. Just when you have someone pegged as being weak and timid, they surprise you with a show of confidence and strength when this/that situation occurs.

    I look at my characters in terms of-- what is the likelihood of them acting or responding a certain way under various circumstances and to what degree. Context has a lot to do with what kind of behavior comes out.
     

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