1. Chrisso

    Chrisso New Member

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    Character Flaws and Goals

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Chrisso, Oct 24, 2017.

    Hi there, I'm a new writer and am seeking some advice in relation to developing a character for a screenplay I'm attempting to write, specifically regarding flaws and their relation to a character's pursuit of their goal in a story.

    A lot of the advice I've read about developing the protagonist character stress that you need to determine what his/her flaw and main goals are, and that their flaw should be something that he/she needs to overcome in order to achieve that goal.

    My question is, what if the main hindrance to the protagonist's pursuit of his/her goal is actually completely external, and unrelated to any of his/her character flaws? Would you still create flaws for that character, and let them overcome those flaws throughout their character arc (or not), while he/she is simultaneously attempt to pursue their goal? Or would they not be required?

    Any advice would be greatly appreciated.
     
  2. mashers

    mashers Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yes. If the character is easily able to overcome the obstacle to them accomplishing their goal, then the story would be boring. There really should be something internal the character has to overcome in order to achieve the goal. Bear in mind that “flaws” can include lack of skill. So the character might need to do something to achieve their goal, but not have the ability to do that thing. They have to learn how in order to achieve their goal.
     
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  3. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    Every once in a while a question about "flaws" pops up, and I always have the same answer:

    Yes, typically the "flaws" of a character are what hinder them from attaining their goals. But I think that's far too black-and-white of an approach. Nobody is that simple.

    I'm an introvert. If I was the protagonist of a story about getting into standup comedy, my introversion would be an obstacle that needed to be overcome in order for me to attain the goal of performing onstage. Note I said "overcome" rather than fixed or changed. Because introversion isn't a "flaw"--it's merely an obstacle. And depending on the story, its opposite--extroversion--could be the obstacle that needs to be overcome.

    Don't box your characters up by putting labels on things that don't need labels. When it comes down to it, you just need drivers of conflict. Internal and external.
     
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  4. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Characters need to have obstacles, and most stories are about characters facing both internal and external obstacles.

    If a character has no internal obstacles, then you would need to crank the external obstacles up to 11 to get a similar effect, and it's harder to make a large external obstacle as uniquely interesting as the combination of a medium internal and a medium external.
     
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  5. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    This has a worryingly mechanical vibe. And, yes, per @xanadu 's post, I would say it's "stuff", not flaws. Honesty can hamper one's goals. Kindness can hamper one's goals. All kinds of good traits can hamper one's goals.

    So I would definitely put the idea of "flaws" aside and think of it, as others have said, as "obstacles." A character's highly educated accent could be an asset in some situations and an obstacle in another. A character's lack of fluency in the French language isn't what you'd call a "flaw", but it could certainly be an obstacle. Yes, I realize that those would probably be called traits and not what one might see as character flaws, but I'm not crazy about making neat distinctions.
     
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  6. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Come to think of it, I think the first post I ever wrote on this site was about how I like to make my characters' weaknesses be essentially the same thing as their strengths.

    My hero protagonist Damien Mitchell is clever and creative enough to come up with multiple ideas for what the team should do next, but he's too indecisive about which idea is the better one. When he and Captain June Harper have time to communicate, she's able to intuit which option is better and he's willing to trust her judgement, but there's one scene where he and their friend Nathan Durst are separated from the Captain, and they get flanked. Damien spends so much time deciding how to respond that Nathan gets shot, and the story ends with his injuries still not being completely taken care of.

    Likewise, my villain protagonist Captain June Harper is incredibly empathetic to the plight of innocent people being hurt or killed by the wicked, and she would love nothing more than for her and her friends to be able to protect them. However, the fact that she's a bloodthirsty vigilante serial killer means that she and her friends aren't on as good terms as they think they are: she can't tell the difference between "killing sadistically as the first resort" and "killing humanely as the last resort," so she's annoyed by how "hypocritical" her friends are for being willing to do the second, yet for getting mad at her for doing the first.

    If her only goal was "kill bad people," then her being the villain wouldn't be a flaw because it wouldn't get in the way of the goal. However: she wants to be the hero, and being a villain who thinks she's a hero means that it would be very hard for her to become an actual hero, and she wants to be friends and comrades with people who actually are heroes, yet her friends are horrified by the fact that she's a monstrous villain.
     
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  7. newjerseyrunner

    newjerseyrunner Contributor Contributor

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    I think a good "journey" story has to involve a personal journey as well. The main goal and danger in The Lord of the Rings is external, but the story would not have been the same without the internal stuff. The Odyssey is also entirely an external journey (sort of, I mean the flaw of pride started the journey,) but only through personal grown was Odysseus allowed to continue. There was no external reason for Odysseus' mother to appear to him in the underworld.

    I think good stories contain more than one of the five basic conflicts: man v man, man v nature, man v society, man v fate, and man v self. Personally, I find man v self to be the most interesting.
     
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  8. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    And I personally find combinations to be more interesting than just one or another :p
     
  9. Chrisso

    Chrisso New Member

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    Thank you everyone for your quick replies, this has been really helpful and I will take it all on board during the character development phase.
     
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  10. Kallisto

    Kallisto Ruler of the world... somewhere... Contributor

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    No, you don't have to determine what your main character's flaws are. What is needed is a goal, a motive, and conflict. That's it. Katniss's flaws in the Hunger Games, had nothing to do with her external struggles. Yes, they got in the way, but she never really overcomes the flaw of being antisocial. In Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice, main character Senua's biggest flaw is that she has psychosis and can't tell the difference between reality and delusion. She never really gets over that flaw.
     
  11. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Banned Contributor

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    Well it is a good idea to have a main goal, but you can add mini/sub goals
    as well. I think those are called subplots. Then you have a main conflict,
    and can throw in smaller conflicts (circle back to subplots).
    As for flaws, well there is a whole host of things, and the more flaws
    the more believable the character is.

    I will break down one of my MCs (Marckus) as an example:

    Main Goal: Free Terra by ousting old faction in a war.
    Mini: Get into a more intimate relation with Cor.
    Mini: Learn to not be as much of an ass.

    Main Conflict: War
    Mini: Learn to accept losing once in a while.
    Mini: Hope to not piss off too many of the wrong people.

    Flaws: Not attractive, moderately arrogant, smart ass,
    highly aggressive, belligerent, abuses power, (minor) selfish

    And even though he has so much pointing at him as an asshole,
    he still has redeeming qualities that even him out.

    I hope you find this helpful in what you are trying to do
    with your own characters. Good Luck. :)
     
  12. EelKat

    EelKat New Member

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    As I'm reading this, I'm trying to recall if I've ever consciously gone out of my way to add flaws to any of my characters. I published my first book in 1978 and have since gone on to have 130+ novels, 2,000+ short stories, and a few dozen stage plays, and I don't think in any of them, I can recall ever having sat down to create a character and thought: "Now it's time to add some flaws."

    This is a rather interesting thought now, because I have heard people give that advice, but I've always just brushed it aside and kept on going elsewhere.

    Now, it's not like my characters are not flawed. I've had main characters who were drunks, murderers, rapists, drug dealers, cultists, you name it, if it's a major character flaw, I've probably used it at some point.

    My current series, the main character is a suicidal drug addict and his lover a chemist/drug dealer. Both of them are on the run from the law - the main character for murdering his wife and four children and his lover for multiple rapes. One is depressed and has a lower then low self esteem, the other is a bully and gets a kick out of starting brawls. They both have drinking problems. If I was to sit down and make a list of their flaws, it'd probably take me all week. By all logic they should be villains or bad guys and not the main characters, because these two guys got flaws out the wazoo! They may perhaps be too flawed. LOL!

    But the thing is, when I created them, I didn't go into it looking to build flawed characters.

    The idea for them came from a couple I knew in real life, both had "bad" pasts and were trying to rebuild their lives, but society couldn't look past their flawed past. They started a dollar store together but found it difficult to gain customers. One day only one of them was at the store and he told us his partner was dead. His depression sunk lower for weeks, until one day the store was closed. We never saw him again and soon found out he'd commit suicide. I did not know either of them very well, and apparently was one of the few friends they had, and looking back wished I could have gotten to know them better. As the years went by, I always had this "What if?" in my head.

    I ended up taking that event and creating a couple, both with a bad past, both looking to start over, both struggling with the way society treated them, both only having each other. While they are vastly different from the real men that had inspired them, their creation was not built around their flaws, but rather around their desire to start a new life and the prejudices they met up with because of their passed. The idea fascinated me, of, how someone can do a terrible thing, go to prison, then years later try to start life over, but never fully be given the second chance to do so, because no matter where they go people are quick to judge.

    And so while the two characters are deeply flawed, the reader sees the story from their point of view, and thus the reader sees the other side of them as well - the hopes, the dreams, the guilt, the pain, the desire to become better, the self doubt,... instead of being two horribly flawed characters, they now become fully developed characters, fleshed out with a lot of good along side the bad.

    The thing that pushes the story forward is their desire to start over and live a better life, but the thing that constantly prevents them from reaching that goal is the prejudice they meet in every new town they try to settle down in.

    So, I think this is an example of the sort of thing you are looking for, but, it's something that just naturally evolved as I was plotting out the story. It wasn't me thinkng: "Let's add this flaw and that flaw". It was just, "this is who he is and this is how people react to him, which results in this happening to trip iup his plans for the future."

    Does that make sense?

    In the end, in the actual story, you don't see their flaws really out on display, because I like to tell very emotional, character driven stories with characters doing lots of introspective, thinking, monologuing, lots of inner turmoil, and dialogue. The reader ends up not seeing the flaws that much, because the reader is in the character's head and sees the world as he sees it, rather then seeing the character as the world sees him.

    I think, focusing on character emotion, really getting inside the character and viewing his world the way his does, is far better then trying to put flaws on a character. Emotions draw the reader into the character and help the reader to see what his hopes and dreams and goals for his future are, whereas flaws just tell the reader, yeah, this guy has this in his way, and doesn't really grab the reader's heart and pull them into the character's story.
     
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  13. Chrisso

    Chrisso New Member

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    Thanks EelKat. You’re final paragraph really summed it up well. I’ve taken a different view now to the advice in some of my character development resources. I think one in particular does ask you to simply ‘slap’ flaws on a character rather than just let them come through naturally throughout the story. And as you say they don’t have to be externally visible, they will come out with the characters actions and words.
     
  14. Simpson17866

    Simpson17866 Contributor Contributor

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    Welcome to the site!
    Hey, I write a lot of villain protagonists too :)

    Personally, I have had good luck with assigning my characters flaws ahead of time and looking at what impact they have – both on the characters themselves and on he others around them – but I can see how a lot of other writers would need to do something else :)
     

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