1. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Does a protagonist have to flaws to be interesting?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Ryan Elder, Dec 7, 2015.

    I am working on a screenplay story now, but so far I do not have a psychological or moral flaw for my MC. It's a crime thriller, and the MC is a cop, solving the case.

    However, do I need the MC to have a main flaw to carry the character's development? Since it's a screenplay, I use movies for examples, but if you watch movies with cop protagonists in like Bullitt (1968), Speed (1994), and Seven (1995), they not have main flaws. They have little flaws here and there maybe, but they are mostly good men trying to do the right thing, with a good head on their shoulders. They are given their assignments, they do them, and that's it. It gets personal for them later, but there is no personal big flaw they have to overcome or deal with.

    What do you think?
     
  2. Tom13
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    Tom13 Member

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    They don't need a personal flaw at all, and trying to show horn one in could end up seeming contrived. I do think with UK crime drama the DI always seems to have a personality disorder and it seems like production meetings for a new series must be pitching ideas for new disorders. 'What about multiple personality disorder? Kleptomania? Necrophilia?' I watched 'Unforgotten' recently and it made a nice change to have a nice protagonist doing her best.

    Not to say flaws can't be interesting (I've just been spouting forth in another thread defending 'baggage') but like everything else in a book/script they need to serve a purpose.
     
  3. SethLoki
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    SethLoki Unemployed Autodidact Contributor

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    It's also prevalent in more than UK drama @Tom13. The Bridge (Swedish/Danish) has a leading lady with Aspergers* as does Bones in the US. When I watch stuff like that nowadays, I'm kinda primed to expect a protagonist to exhibit some failing. When it's not an inherited disorder I feel unfulfilled if the story doesn't cover the reason for it. :(

    This is likely a trope too but what about flipping things around? Take the MC all clean minded and a bit green into the case have have them become increasingly flawed and affected by the unfolding story. Your mission then as an author is to rescue your leading light as much as it is to have them solve the case.

    * an enhancement as somebody with Aspergers once told me
     
  4. Shbooblie
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    Shbooblie Contributing Member

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    Flaws don't have to be major or unusual ones, but as no one is perfect everybody will have them in some form. I think flaws make people more interesting, they give us a deeper understanding of the character and their motivations. If you put a major flaw (like personality disorder or similar) in it has to serve a purpose as @Tom13 mentioned above. What sort of things are you thinking of going with @Ryan Elder ?
     
  5. NeighborVoid
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    NeighborVoid Active Member

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    "Only if it impacts the plot" is the key answer to most questions of this category.
     
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  6. AlexJames
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    AlexJames Member

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    For the most part I would say yes, a MC is made more interesting with flaws in most cases. Flaws are what make us human and ultimately (though not necessarily) you want your MC to be relatable.

    As for the "Only if it impacts the plot", I think that a really good thought but I'd add to it. Giving a character flaws can motivate better and more interesting plot lines. A MC with certain insecurities has them for a reason. Where did they get them from? How do they fit into his current situation? etc etc
     
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  7. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm not really a fan of this topic as a topic, per se. To clarify, I never see it as, "OK, I have a character. Done. Check. Now let me give that character a flaw."

    Nope. Red flag.

    Flaws aren't things. I don't know what my characters' flaws are, because I really don't care. My characters aren't neatly divisible into flaws and virtues and all that stuff. My characters just are. They have stuff. Some of that stuff helps them reach their goals. Some of that stuff gets in their way. Some of that stuff they like, some of it they don't. Some of it gets challenged. Some of it they want to change, some of it they fight to keep unchanged.

    Does that "stuff" contain flaws? Maybe. Who cares? Someone might see it as a flaw. Someone might not. As far as I'm concerned, it's a facet of a character that creates tension in the plot. There should be a number of those things. They could be good things or bad things. Everybody has a lot of facets that make them who they are, and characters shouldn't be any different. Not everything needs a label. Ambiguity could be a strength.

    And, as always, this is very much IMO. Grains of salt and all that. Maybe some pepper, too.
     
  8. LemonadeLover
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    LemonadeLover Member

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    Flaws are what make us human, so yes- a realistic (interesting) character needs to have at least one flaw however he/she doesn't need to have an obvious one, eg. walks with a limp, schizophrenia etc. But, perhaps they could be a bit abrupt or rude or sensitive?
     
  9. Wolfmaster1234
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    Wolfmaster1234 Member

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    I would say it's good for a character to have flaws because otherwise it can make it difficult to connect to the character as perfection is both unrealistic and irritating. But they don't necessarily have to be major flaws just enough to add some depth and interest to the character.
     
  10. AlexJames
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    AlexJames Member

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    Yeah exactly. When we say flaws we don't mean that he's missing a limb or is a pathology ridden basket case. We simply mean he has the same kind of everyday flaws we all do.

    This doesn't mean you artificially add flaws in. The very nature of your character should give rise to flaws. Here's some examples:

    Is you character brave? Maybe he's overly headstrong at times, or even reckless
    Is your character sensitive? Maybe they fall in love too easy, or are too trusting
    Is your character highly intelligent? Maybe they suffer with communicating with other people

    You might call those stereotypes but they're just examples of how flaws should naturally arise out of your characters personality.
     
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  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think flaw is the wrong word. Your character needs to have conflict.

    When you say, "It gets personal for them later, but there is no personal big flaw they have to overcome or deal with," is personal something that affects them but which they don't have to overcome? Perhaps you need to grow something more conflicting out of that.
     
  12. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Is this the cop who's blackmailing people and lying and withholding evidence about murders, or is this another story? Because I'd say that cop has too many flaws, not too few. I see that story as a villain hunting a villain.

    In any case, I wouldn't say that a character has to have a big defining flaw, no. They just shouldn't be annoyingly perfect. If you just write them fairly naturally, and suppress the urge to "correct" unlikable behaviors by the character, natural imperfections will probably come out.
     
  13. Renee J
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    Renee J Contributing Member

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    I flaw could be as simple as making a mistake. Or maybe being a little selfish.
     
  14. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well can I make the character so he is an honest cop, just doing his assignment, and going after the villains. However, by making him the least flawed character in the story, almost all of the other characters will have bigger moral flaws. Not just the villains, but almost all of the supporting characters as well, and I feel that those flaws might over shadow the MC as a character, and he may not be as compelling or interesting as a result. If the least flawed character is the main character, is that normal that a story should be told from his POV? What is his theme, if he does not relate as directly to the themes of the other characters?

    What do you think?
     
    Last edited: Jan 2, 2016
  15. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    I don't think so, at least not in the sense you're talking about. A good example are John Grisham's novels, particularly The Firm. Grisham has a tendency to follow characters who "have it made," but then fall on hard times (or are employed by the mafia by accident). A character does need conflict, though. That can either arise from within themselves, from others, or (usually) both. Most characters will have some flaws. Even if a character is absolutely perfect, they would probably be depressed from how boring their life is because of that perfection, which is itself a flaw. :p
     
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  16. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I see what you mean by the perfection is boring thing. However, how is it that the character in The Firm is applicable to mine exactly?
     
  17. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, this. "Flaws" can also be strengths in certain circumstances. Somebody who is outspoken and unafraid to approach strangers might get on well in business. However, they might scare people off getting to know them better as a friend or lover. Honesty can be an excellent personal quality and encourages people to trust what you say ...but not if it always trumps tact.

    If you create a 'real' human being, you will automatically give them strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes these are both the same. That's when things get really interesting.
     
  18. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    Doesn't necessarily have anything to do with your character. McDeere (the MC from the Firm) is just a good example of a character who has very few flaws. Although, his lack of flaws in many cases causes problems. He's such a perfect lawyer, that the mob decides to hire him, which is the main struggle through the story.

    Since you're writing about a cop, if the character has no flaws, his colleagues could see him/her as being unnerving because of how perfect he'd be, which ironically would be a flaw itself. :p

    I'd recommend writing your character with a reasonable amount of quirks, but no major flaws. As has been said, no one is perfect, but most people are also reasonably comfortable/sane.
     
  19. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    Okay thanks. Well in my case, would the other cops find him unnerving or would they actually like working with him, cause they know he is much more reliable as a result?
     
  20. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    Your choice I guess. :p In every workplace, there are people who like each other and people who don't. I'd recommend finding some sources of conflict between the MC and his colleagues, to give the story tension.
     
  21. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I can definitely use the unnerving thing, but I think the colleagues would have to have a reason as to why it bothers them. If they are flawed, it depends on what those flaws of theirs are, as long as I don't force flaws upon them too much of course :).

    The way I see it, is that the MC is a very plot driven character who's job is to investigate a mystery, where as the villains and supporting characters, are much more character driven compared to him.

    But this goes against a lot of story structures, cause in a lot of stories, the MC is the most character driven character, so I feel like I am doing the opposite of the norm.
     
  22. Matt E
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    Matt E Stormblessed Supporter

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    If the other characters are more interesting, it may be worth switching one of them to be the main character. It's optimal for the reader to be able to empathize with the protagonist, which is why character development for him/her is very good to have. The cop can still be an important side-character.
     
  23. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    Flaws are necessary but not sufficient for an interesting protagonist.
     
  24. Ryan Elder
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    Ryan Elder Contributing Member

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    I was thinking of doing this, but all the other more compelling characters no what's going, on and are all in the scheme. The cop has a mystery to figure out and the reader will be along for the ride with all the surprises and solving the mystery with him. If I make the MC one of the morally flawed characters, then they already know almost everything, and there is that storytelling disadvantage.

    What do you think is more important?
     
  25. plothog
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    plothog Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    You don't necessarily need every single cop reacting to his traits in the same way.
    If different characters react in different ways it can help emphasise the pros on cons of a trait, and it also makes your secondary characters more interesting and varied.
     

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