1. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    What is a good character fault?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by I.A. By the Barn, Nov 6, 2015.

    Luanna (Lu for short) is the point of view for my book(s?). Now every character is supposed to have a fault whether they are the one we are supposed to be rooting for or not to make them more real because no one is good and same goes for 'bad' guys who should have some redeemable qualities. Or so I've read. Anyway the fault for Lu was going to be that she cares too much for others. She won't burden anyone else with her problems and doesn't really even admit to having any. However she burdens herself with everyone else's problems and will try and solve them like they're hers, even though they aren't. Is this a fault or not?
     
  2. Johncrawfordz
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    Johncrawfordz Member

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    To me, this is considered a fault especially if this trait is put into excess. If its not excessive though, it may be debatable between a fault or a positive trait (compassion). How to know if its excessive? A good example would be when it puts your character into trouble.

    My 2 cents. Hope this helps.

    Regards
    John Crawfordz
     
  3. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Well I was planning that near the end because she wants to help Rizonti (I'll be changing his name)who kidnaped he parents by understanding why? This then leads to the death of her parents. Does that make it a fault?
     
  4. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    Definitely a fault. Explore it.

    Is she nosy with other people's problems? Does she give unwanted advice? Does she actually know what to do, or is it a case of the blind leading the blind?

    Consider the reactions of the characters she tries to help. Lots of people get severely pissed off when others try to tell them how to live their lives. "You should —" is a great way to kill a friendship, potential love interest, cause conflicts at work, oh my god the possibilities are endless for someone who takes on the burdens of others.

    edit to add: This would also be a constant, profound source of stress for the character. It's difficult enough trying to live your own life, imagine trying to live everyone else's for them.
     
  5. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    A good way to work with the dilemma of creating character flaws is to put your character into a difficult situation ...and figure out how the character would react to it. You can figure out how they might handle it badly—or well—and from there, your character's flaws and strengths can evolve.

    I think that writing fiction means you need to entwine character with plot, right from the start.
    Play around with your character and her situation in your head until you're sure. Envision her attempts to 'help' somebody in trouble. This, of course, means you need to envision the needy person as well. How do they feed off each other? Does your main character push her help (or her version of it) onto somebody who is reluctant to accept it? Does the needy person ask or beg for help, and is your main character reluctant (or cautious) about giving it? Does your character experience feelings from her past that influence how she behaves in this situation?

    Let the personalities develop as naturally as you can. Write a few scenes between them, playing with dialogue, body language, etc. The results will be more nuanced and more surprising (and sometimes more contradictory) than if you start out with a list of characteristics that includes: 'my character's flaw is that she takes on other people's problems.'

    My own main character started out with an unresolvable dilemma from his past, and I had the idea that holding on to this secret would make him very withdrawn in the present. What I had not envisioned was how grumpy he would become, when pushed on the subject. That was a revelation that came while working with the character and seeing him interact with other characters. I would never have listed 'grumpy' as one of his character flaws when I started out. But it certainly helped to round out his character, once that particular flaw emerged from the writing.
     
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2015
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  6. Mckk
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    Mckk Moderator Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Sorta depends on the level of realism you want. Yes, it can be a fault, but I'd class it as one of those "fake" faults - designed to look like a fault while not running the risk of your readers actually disliking the character. Whether that's an issue will depend on what you're going for with your story.
     
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  7. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    On the one hand, I tend to dislike the idea of "Oh, now I need to add a fault." It feels too mechanical--ideally, a character's faults should be obvious, rather than something that you have to add after the fact.

    On the other hand, and rather hypocritically, I find myself wanting a "real" fault, an actual negative characteristic. Selfishness, irritability, an inability to admit she's wrong, a lack of empathy, a tendency to take the last egg roll without asking, something that makes her something other than sweet and perfect.
     
  8. Adenosine Triphosphate
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    Adenosine Triphosphate Old Scratch Contributor

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    It can also be a genuine flaw if makes her too depressed or too bogged down in linguistic sensitivity to function effectively. The ability to feel the pain of others is an uncomfortable thing.
     
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  9. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I feel as if we may be confusing "flaw that keeps the character from being so sugar-sweet perfect that the reader wants to drown them" and "game balance." A novel doesn't need game balance, so I don't feel that p0sitive-characteristic flaws necessarily "count" as flaws.
     
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  10. Inks
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    Inks Contributing Member

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    "Caring too much" is a vague notion that lacks specificity. A "fault" might be a "strength" under different circumstances. Instead think of it as a moral and ethical focus that dictates acceptable actions. The compassion and concern for others can be a major weakness if it can be exploited - as all things.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2015
  11. Kallisto
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    Kallisto Active Member

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    Yes and no as far as every character needing a flaw. No character should have everything going for them throughout the course of the story. There should be things they don't know and consequences they don't always fully anticipate. They should have opinions and real human emotion. There should be things the character wants. These kinds of things make the complicated and flawed human beings that we all are.

    Characters shouldn't have a flaw just to have a flaw. Often times when we try to force a flaw, the characters come off as just ridiculous and even outright unlikable. That "cool" character you made that has a bad attitude as a flaw? They're just an asshole. The "funny" character you made who cracks jokes at inappropriate times? They're just obnoxious.

    Here's what characters really need: They need a goal, a motive and a conflict. When you focus on those things, the flaws start to come naturally.
     
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  12. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    Seconded. Flaws for the sake of flaws are just as useless as anything else for its own sake. It needs to contribute to the story, which means it needs to contribute to the conflict, which means it needs to be a story obstacle that has to be overcome.

    Unless it's being played for laughs, which depending on the context, could also work. In a satire, for instance.
     
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  13. Imaginarily
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    Imaginarily Disparu en Mer Contributor

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    If by this you mean a flaw must advance the plot, then meh. I shrug and disagree with that sentiment. As long as it's a realistic character flaw that works in context, it doesn't necessarily need any more purpose than that.

    For example, my vampire is lilapsophobic (afraid of tornadoes and hurricanes). When a storm hits he turns into a sniveling little coward. Does it have anything to do with the plot? No.
    Does it need to be there? Not really, I guess. Do I even have context for it to be mentioned in the narrative at all? No. (Not yet, we'll see.)

    Does it make sense for him and his backstory, though? Yes.

    It's in the back of my mind should there ever be a situation where he needs to fail. I can just summon the rain and that will stop him in his tracks. How/when will I do this? I don't know, but it's an option I have.
     
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  14. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Have you ever been practising for a job interview and tried to come up with an answer to "What would you say is your worst flaw?" or similar? Most people come up with something that isn't a flaw at all, like "I care too much about my job." Don't do that with characters - it's just as transparent and just as uninteresting.

    I'm with @Kallisto. My MC's flaws are things that hold them back from achieving their goals rather than designed to stop them being too perfect. For example, a complete lack of confidence in yourself doesn't make you unlikeable or less sympathetic but it stops you taking opportunities, making the most of what you have, and fighting for what you want. Start with the goal and design a flaw that creates conflict around getting that goal. Don't throw one in just because you're scared of creating a Mary Sue.
     
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  15. xanadu
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    xanadu Contributing Member Contributor

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    I never said anything about contributing to "plot." I only mentioned contributing to conflict. Conflict is pretty broad. If showing your character as a coward in a storm moves something forward--be it plot, character development, etc--then I see it as relevant.

    You said the key thing--"works in context."

    Although I don't know that I'd necessarily consider that a "flaw," either. I'd classify a flaw as some kind of real character detriment. Which is why I mention tying it in to the conflict, because very often character arcs are about those characters overcoming their flaws.

    Maybe it's all just semantics, who knows? :)
     
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  16. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    I don't see a phobia as a flaw either, just an obstacle. It still creates conflict and stops a character reaching their goal (excellent! make those suckers suffer!) but it's not a personal failing. My MC has a phobia but the flaw is that she's too scared to do anything about it, believing she isn't strong enough to cope with treatment. Definitely some semantics in there. :D
     
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  17. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm trying to think of favourite characters of mine and their flaws. Often it's as @Tenderiser says, things hold them back rather than make them bad. I'm mulling over Pip in "Great Expectations". There's nothing really wrong with him. He's quite naive, and is embarrassed of Joe when he's aspiring to be a gentleman, but these aren't huge flaws. And this in a book full of very flawed supporting characters (with the notable exception of Joe himself). I don't think anyone would claim that he is a Mary Sue.

    Sherlock Holmes - OK, his difficulty with personal relationships is probably his flaw. A good example I'd think. (please feel free to disagree).

    Would anyone like to analyse some well known fictional characters and discuss their flaws?

    Television nowadays seems to over-emphasise character flaws. E.g. look at "Lost". Do we really need all these flaws in written fiction? OK, that may have been a major theme of the show, but a lot of shows seem to be similar. "Walking Dead". Hmm... is "The Apprentice" a supposedly real world example of this?

    A lot of MCs are effectively everymen (or everywomen). Winston Smith, Arthur Dent. Many of them seem to lack decisiveness or effectiveness, but what else? What are the flaws of John and Susan Walker in Swallows and Amazons?

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Character_flaw#Major_flaw

    Harry Potter's major character flaw is "anger and occasional arrogance"?
     
  18. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Sherlock Holmes - arrogance, I'd say. It doesn't make him unlikeable because it's justified and because he is willing to admit when he's been defeated (a certain lady and her picture spring to mind).

    I don't think Harry Potter has a flaw. When you think about him you realise he's a very, very bland character - an audience surrogate, I think @Sifunkle calls them (perhaps this is a well known term?). He's angry for a bit in the fifth book but he's incredibly passive for most of the books. Things tend to fall into his lap and successes are often due to his friends, his luck, or his enemies' stupidity.

    Katniss - No real flaw. She doesn't trust easily but that doesn't hold her back. Bella - no real flaw. I'm seeing a trend in popular YA.
     
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  19. Burnistine
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    Burnistine Active Member

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    Yes, it is a fault. But you can create depth within her character by complicating things for her. In other words, don't make it her only flaw. The best example I can give you is to go to Sandra Brown's novel, Deadline. It's a very good book that keeps you on the edge of your seat. It also gives you insight into one of the MC's character flaws. Dawson Scott is complicated and creates doubt in his love interest, Amelia. Go to Amazon.com and see if you can get this book downloaded for under $4.00. It's worth the read.
     
  20. Doctore
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    I see this as a fault because it just the type of mindset and ways of someone who WANTS to be a martyr. They may even (on a subconscious level) think this right and just to take the world's problems on their shoulders as well as their own, while not excepting help themselves. Some might argue this makes them selfless or selfish given the martyr complex, but either way this is a flaw. From this point it just depends on how you show this in the story. If you want this to show as a flaw then you should make it seem real and honest, rather than pretty and neat. If you are going to say this is a flaw then showing it, the ups and downs would be a good idea. Because..wow, being selfish-selfless can be a pain in the ass so let the reader see this. And always remember the road to ruin is paved with good intentions.
     
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  21. I.A. By the Barn
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    I.A. By the Barn A very lost time traveller Contributor

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    Humm, lots to think about here. Thinking about, it in a really strange way she is pretty selfish. She has her parents kidnapped right, and then trying to rescue them she accidently frees a lad called Arthur. He just wants to go and explore the world and get as far as way as possible from where he was kept but Lu insists he stays. She says this is so she can help him learn the magic that he hasn't been using, but for her own ends. He doesn't needor want this magic. She will use him to free her parents which is pretty selfish at the end of the day. She is absolutely terrified of looking bad and so will help anyone to keep up this image, she even wants to help the kidnapper at the end of the book rather than kill him which he in fact is begging for. This leads to him killing her parents and then she blames it on him. She wants to appear good to everyone, especially the reader.
    I really see here what you are saying Doctore and i think she wants to be a matyr.
     
  22. Burnistine
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    Burnistine Active Member

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    Keep in mind that martyrs or shall I say self-made martyrs are liars--both to themselves and to others. They constantly go against what they really want to do. This flaw can work in your favor as a writer. Don't run away from this conflict. Embrace it.
     
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  23. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    OK, she sounds controlling, selfish, and narcissistic. The problem has shifted from her needing a flaw to her being so deeply flawed that the reader could find her intolerable.
     
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  24. Tenderiser
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    Tenderiser Not a man Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    ^ My thoughts, too.
     
  25. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I know warning bells go off in my head when I encounter real-life martyrs of the chronic variety. Their position is very akin to self-sabotage. It's definitely a flaw, if it becomes chronic. A person can sacrifice themselves to save (or help) somebody they love as a one-off, but that doesn't make them a martyr in the same sense as a person who constantly hunts for a cause to sacrifice themselves for. And once that cause is wrapped up, they go searching for another. That's definitely a flaw.
     

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