1. Holo
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    Holo Senior Member

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    Character Flaws

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Holo, Nov 15, 2011.

    I'm in the process of creating my characters and want to make sure I properly avoid making them mary sues or gary stus. Right now I'm brainstorming their flaws. I hate character "flaws" that are nail biting or clumsiness because those are not flaws to me. I need some help brainstorming realistic flaws. I don't want the flaws to define the character in a way to make them unlikeable, but I do want flaws that can present the character's with self-inflicted problems or give them a reason to mature and overcome the flaw. What kind of flaws are redeemable and which ones pass the moral event horizon? What flaws are not really flaws and lead to mary sues and which ones make a character seem relatable and realistic?
     
  2. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Alcoholism.
    Drug Abuse.
    Selfish.
    Relentless.
    Revengeful.
    Not very sympathetic.
    Shallow.
    A player, meaning not able to commit to one woman or love.
    Scared of love.
    Fears that make it hard for the character to move forward in the plot.


    Weakness can often be plot contextual. The MC might want to go be a manager of a Firm in the big city, but what he needs is to learn to be a leader of his own small town. So his weakness is his desire because it conflicts with what he needs, what we want him to choose. We want him to choose his small town and not move away. The small town needs him, if only he can see that. Of course, the story ends with him having a revelation and staying in the small town.
     
  3. minstrel
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    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Don't worry about not making your characters Mary Sues or Gary Stus. Just make them characters. If you start trying to artificially insert flaws just to conform to some anti-Mary-Sue-rule you read on the internet, your character will suffer.

    The whole Mary Sue thing is silly. It seems like you can't get any two internet "authorities" to even agree on what a Mary Sue is. I'm tired of Mary Sues.
     
  4. Ixloriana
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    Ixloriana Member

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    It's not always having stupid flaws which makes a character a Mary Sue. There are plenty of lovable characters that don't have much in the way of flaws, but who are not Mary Sues. It's about how other characters act toward them, I think.

    Actually, I rambled on about this subject in [thread=47565]another thread[/thread] so I'll paraphrase what I said there a little bit:

    It's not just the character that's the problem. The perception that the character is frolicking through this story with no conflict at all is what really makes them a Mary Sue. It's the conflict that makes the characters.

    Even if the character has only endearing flaws that don't really hurt her, if there is conflict in the story that makes life hard for her, then it will be okay.


    That said, almost any character trait can be turned into a flaw by taking it to an extreme. Think about the traits your characters already have and think, "Well, she's nice, but is she too nice? Maybe she can't say no to people. He's protective but is he too protective? Maybe he's overbearing." That might be a way to go for "self-inflicted" flaws.


    It sounds like you want some kind of comprehensive flaw list, and there just really isn't one. If you feel like you need lists of character traits to give you ideas for characters, try "Writer's Guide to Character Traits" by Linda Edelstein -- it's nice for looking at personality archetypes and finding complimentary traits and flaws.
     
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  5. agentkirb
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    agentkirb Contributing Member

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    I agree with the other posters in that this might not be the best way to go about it.

    Having said that, I've put a lot of thought into character flaws. I think a good way to look at it is that a character flaw can be considered a strength in the right context. Saying the guy has a drug problem might be a character flaw, but you aren't really touching on the personality quirk that is behind it all. I know it sounds kind of crazy saying that flaws can be strengths, but think about it: someone that is impulsive will sometimes make bad decisions on a whim, but also those same people probably have good instincts and react quicker. Maybe you have a character that is brave, and doesn't give up a fight even if he is losing. In another situation someone would call that person stubborn.

    I guess my point is that you can create character flaws out of the strengths of that character.
     
  6. ArtWander
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    ArtWander Contributing Member

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    I have always found that in order to make a likeable character, give them something they have to deal with that some readers might have to deal with as well. This can be something more obvious, like an abusive parent or significant other, but I always find it much more interesting to give them a small issue. Maybe it's a little quirk, like slight OCD, or perhaps they like something seemingly against their character.

    For example, out of complete randomness, I gave my character hypoglycemia. It doesn't seem like much when you think about it, but it added a dimension to my character with a certain vulnerability that readers can latch onto (ex. she always has to keep sugar suckers in her coat pocket)

    That's my suggestion, anyhow :)
     
  7. architectus
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    architectus Banned

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    Artwander, I have hypoglycemia, and a sucker is too slow for me. We need sugar and fast or we feel crappy for longer. A candy bar or soda is much better. Or two sticks of honey. I usually carry honey with me, or a candy bar.
     
  8. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    One thing that I can find useful is imagining a reason that a good, likable, sympathetic character (Character A) could _dislike_ the character that you're trying to add flaws to. (Character B) I'm not talking about jealous harpies disliking your sweet adorable character, but a _likable_ Character A disliking Character B. And I'm not talking about Character A disliking Character B due to a misunderstanding, but for an actual accurate reason. Then see if you can expand that into a meaningful flaw that's part of a good solid character concept for Character B.

    For example, thinking of a discussion I was having over at NaNoWriMo, maybe Character B is chronically late, and doesn't really try to stop being late. If she's already ten minutes late for a group dinner at a restaunt, she doesn't hurry - she does her full hair and makeup routine, and spends minutes finding the parking space that's least likely to get her car dinged, and strolls in after making everyone wait forty minutes. She apologizes abjectly, but Character A still dislikes her for this. And maybe that lateness is part of a larger character flaw, a tendency to be oblivious to others' social needs. Maybe she expects others to hear all about her triumph at the softball game, but pays little attention to others' stories.

    That's just one example. What makes you dislike otherwise reasonable people - perhaps friends of your friends? Those things might add depth to a character.

    ChickenFreak
     
  9. Jhunter
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    Jhunter Mmm, bacon. Contributor

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    The best examples of realistic human flaws -- that will be believable by your readers -- are all around you. Look at the people in your life.
     
  10. Tesoro
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    Tesoro Contributing Member Contributor

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    I agree with minstrel and chickenfreak. i don't believe "creating flaws" only for that purpose will work. If you ask me it will sound contrived and the reader will notice that. just make them human. Flaws, IMHO,should appear naturally when you write about the characters if you have an objective enough approach to them, if they feel real to you. Plus what chickenfreak said i think is a good idea (i've done it myself), having another character dislike your character or certain traits of your character will make the flaw seem natural and also very objective. (making a character dislike the MC because she stands in his way isn't enough, it's not a flaw) To me a mary sue is a lot about the author justifying everything she does, (even the s.c flaws) unable to make anyone else react negatively to this character. there is a writer I have read a lot from and her characters are ALWAYS mary sues to me. everyone likes them, and if they don't , it's them having a problem, not the mary sue that does anything wrong. i've stopped reading that author by now...
     
  11. ScreamsfromtheCrematory
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    This might be a bit of a dodgy one but imagine a character's attributes as less as "good " and "bad" ones but just "neutral".

    For example, let's say your character is steadfast and iron willed in his beliefs. In harsh negotiations with say, dodgy politicians trying to subvert, bribe, subtly threaten and otherwise douche their way through meetings, both the relative positives and negatives of him could shine. On one hand, his refusal to merely keel over and inability to be cowed by what we can presume are really scary in a sort of "I can make your grandparents conveniently get into a tragic car crash three hours later" sort of way ensues that his nation/faction/group/whatevah! will be protected by the evils of dodginess and wikileaks-worthy-black-operations, along with presenting a strong, unbending front to the bad guys. On the negative side of things, the character will have a harder time reading the subtle implications of the bad guys, the things they really might mean they're saying and the full ramifications of what he's doing. His unwillingness to enter the deadly game of cloak, daggers, and under-the-table dealings means that he cannot truly see the full extent of their scheming and in a way only deals with perhaps only half of the negotiation's issue at hand.

    Whether this is more of a flaw or more of a strength will probably be just interpretation but as the poster before me has said, these are less of things that will likely be planned and more of things that will just sort of... happen. Like just imagine you have a bunch of people - friends, acquaintances, and enemies. Now give them a subject matter they all will have differing views over that will cause them to break into their own little groups and "factions" based on belief. Say, "the black album" by Metallica - you'll have the people yelling that it was them dumbing themselves down to the will of the crowd, those who claim they were just moving forward albeit in their own way, the people who'll say that you shouldn't judge them for it and so on.

    What's important here isn't whether or not you believe Cliff Burton would have saved them or that they should have just changed their band name to respect what once was, but rather the ways in which people argue, the methodology and way they present their beliefs, and their reasons for believing what they believe. As a person who's been into many arguments about heavy metal music and how the mainstream is affecting, there are many weaknesses and strengths that occur time and time again as people interact with friends, foes, and those inbetween. You will have people who are able to word themselves in a very elegant and charismatic manner that while clear, also is used to obscure and overly elongate their arguments. Some will display a wide knowledge of similar events that have occurred and present interesting comparisons to them but may use these as red-herrings to distract from the main argument. There are those who will break down every bit of another's argument and answer every point in full but they'll get carried away with a few particular details that may not have that much significance overall.

    In other words, if you're good at characterizing characters and portraying conversations or other daily/normal/mundane/etc. interactions between them, this should come pretty naturally to you.
     
  12. ArtWander
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    ArtWander Contributing Member

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    Is it too slow? I have it as well, and usually a sucker can do wonders for me in a pinch :)

    I'll definitely keep your suggestions in mind though, thank you!
     
  13. Acid001
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    Acid001 Member

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    Jhunter is about right. Look to your friends - and yourself. I usually find myself adding bits of me to my protagonist, so that I, at the very least, can relate to him. Most people have flaws they'd like to change, but most people like themselves. Channel that into your protagonist. If you present a protagonist to your reader as you'd present yourself, they'll probably end up liking him, and it's likely that he'll come across as realistic.

    Of course, different rules apply to antiheroes and such, but then you don't really have to stress about thinking up flaws. ^.^
     

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