Does a protagonist have to flaws to be interesting?

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

  1. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    This. Also, the way that others react to his traits should probably change throughout the story as conflicts are resolved, etc.
     
  2. Man in the Box

    Man in the Box Active Member

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    Well, every character needs to have flaws, because every person in the world has flaws.

    Asperger's is no joke but The Bridge had a light-hearted take on it. It led to Saga being involved in hilarious situations more often than not.
     
  3. Sack-a-Doo!

    Sack-a-Doo! Contributor Contributor

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    Going by the cops I've known and/or had to deal with, that is the flaw.

    Fiction makes most of them seem like everyday people who, like politicians, once they've got power, become angels who cannot do wrong. There must be exceptions, but I have yet to meet one.

    PS (EDIT): BTW, I know this isn't really helpful, but it had to be said. :)
     
  4. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Okay thanks. But I don't really have any flaws for him because he is a plot driven character that drives everything else. Like since it's a screenplay, I tend to use other movies as examples, and two I can think of that had a flawless cop hero are Bullitt and Speed.

    They are just cops who are given an assignment and they do it. They do not have moral flaws as to how they do their jobs, or there is tragedy from their past that they are struggling to redeem. Unless they do have flaws and I am not seeing it as such?
     
  5. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I think it's important to draw a line between people who use flaws pretty badly and flaws in general.

    A lot of the time, especially in mediums where there is little space to set up a character, flaws are a quick way to make characters seem interesting even if those flaws aren't explored or important to the plot. Equally we often see flaws used to justify a character being otherwise magically awesome at everything and that's a bad way to develop characters too. But neither of that is the flawed characters fault.

    Personally I would say that every character should have some flaw because it's something that gives them an internal conflict and pushes them in a direction other than exactly where the plot wants to take them. It doesn't have to be a big deal especially in more plot-focused story but it's good to have a moment of reflection or a few lines of dialogue that show a character has been changed by events. Remember that anything can be a flaw too. Even being 'by the book' can be a flaw if you want it to be, where it causes conflict with a partner who feels a different approach would be more effective.

    I think that's what you really need - Not necessarily a flaw as such, but just something that can generate a bit of personal conflict to run along side the plot.
     
  6. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Okay thanks. I guess I don't really have a lot at this point of the story. For the first half of the story, he is just given an assignment and he does it. For the last half, @## hits the fan, and then he is more emotionally involved, but until that point, I don't really have a lot of drive for him, other than wanting to stop the villains, because it's his job.

    I could give him more, but the way I have it set up so far, is that his is given the assignment, then goes to work, kind of like a Columbo episode or something like that, at this point in the story.

    So I am not sure what flaw, or personality trait to give that is more emotionally involved in the start.
     
  7. MilesTro

    MilesTro Senior Member

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    A character without flaws is like playing a video game without enemies.
     
  8. Justin Rocket 2

    Justin Rocket 2 Contributor Contributor

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    You should probably foreshadow his flaw before this happens.

    That could be a manifestation of his flaw. He used to be passionate about justice, now he's just doing his job only because it is his job. Now, he's experiencing ennui because he's in an existential crisis perhaps because of the sheer hopelessness of his job. I can see that ennui being carried over into his family life as well. He and his wife are heading towards divorce because the passion is gone (they don't hate each other, they just aren't passionate anymore). He hasn't had a meaningful heart-to-heart talk with either of his son's in so long he can't remember. His younger son remembers wistfully when they used to toss the baseball.

    For whatever reason, THIS is the case where he begins to remember why he became a cop - to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
     
  9. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Okay thanks, but how can I foreshadow the flaw, since he hasn't acquired it yet? He doesn't acquire the flaw until crap hits the fan half way through, but before then, he doesn't have it. It's the crap hitting the fan, that gives him the flaw, afterwards, so to speak.

    So I am not quite understanding how I could foreshadow it, prior, therefore.
     
  10. Justin Rocket 2

    Justin Rocket 2 Contributor Contributor

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    Why does he get a flaw when the excrement contacts the air conditioning (presumably the midpoint)?
     
  11. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Well what happens is, is that disaster strikes and innocent people are harmed, and victimized, including himself as well as ones he is close to. So it's the victimization that gives him the flaw of wanting to avenge it, which leads to more trouble. But he doesn't have that ends justifies the means desire, until the victimization, causes him to be like that.
     
  12. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    It seems a bit odd that it would just appear out of nowhere like that. Maybe, in one of the earlier scenes, you could show him facing down a criminal, then having an urge to kill the criminal instead of arresting him, but then suppressing the urge? Could provide some foreshadowing for what happens later.
     
  13. Justin Rocket 2

    Justin Rocket 2 Contributor Contributor

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    So, he and the people he is close to are harmed and he campaigns to avenge it. Why?

    I mean, he has other options he could pursue (for example, he could withdraw and focus on keeping the people he cares about safe), so why pursue this one course of action?
     
  14. Justin Rocket 2

    Justin Rocket 2 Contributor Contributor

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    That's where I was headed in my posts as well.
     
  15. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Well the idea of wanting to avenge someone is natural isn't it? Like for example, if someone killed my fiance in real life, or a sibling or friend, I would probably harbor desires to want to avenge it, if the crook got away with it. I have never however, came close to killing anyone in real life. I've been in a couple of fights, but never felt the urge to kill. But if my fiance was killed, I may get the urge for the first time in my life.

    Why can't I write it so that's his first time he felt the urge? Why does there have to be a prior urge, in an unrelated scenario, earlier in the story for it to believed? Plus if I foreshadow it with a prior urge to kill, then have the revenge later, it will not be near as surprising. The reader will say "whoa I didn't see that coming at all, in that character!" They will instead, say "hey that character also had the urge to kill before, now he did". It's just not as surprising compared to having a character act on their first urge, without foreshadowing it.
     
    Last edited: Jan 4, 2016
  16. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    Foreshadowing, when done right, won't spoil the surprise, but rather enhance it. If there isn't any foreshadowing to something, a reader might be disappointed. Such a radical change could be seen as an inconsistency in character, and cause their suspension of disbelief to waver.

    That said, it's ultimately your choice. There are pros and cons to doing it either way. You could instead foreshadow it the other way around. Instead of giving the main character an urge to do that type of thing before he later "snaps," you can instead drop in hints where other people around him talk about doing similar things, and he tells them he'd never even consider doing it himself. That's just one example, but by doing that, you plant a seed that can later blossom into the change that occurs in the character. By planting the seed, you make the change seem more natural, while still not spoiling what will happen beforehand.
     
  17. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Oh okay, I could plant the seed beforehand the opposite way maybe, that's an idea.

    I just need a reason as to why their has to be that prior urge, when it is more surprising to gain the urge later and act on it then. Otherwise I do not know why I am applying it prior.

    Since it's a screenplay, I tend to use movies as an example, and one movie I can think of that did not foreshadow a character snapping in the beginning was Cell 211.

    In that movie about two thirds into it, the MC's wife was killed. As soon as the MC found out about he immediately went after the killer, but there was no prior set up, to him having any urges to kill anyone. He just snapped from A to Z completely in one minute. I found this to be much more surprising then being foreshadowed prior, but that is just me.

    Plus I do not understand how the motive is appearing out of nowhere. Since tragedy strikes the MC, the motive is not coming out of nowhere, but coming out of the tragedy, which is a very specific place for it to come out of, isn't it?

    I guess I am just not understanding why I need to plant a seed beforehand. I thought that the tragedy would be obvious enough that they would see how it effects the MC (since he's human and as a cop, can be effected by such things), without having to plant a seed in the first act.

    One movie that plants it the opposite way like you suggest is The Dark Knight, with Harvey Dent, right?
     
  18. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    If it were me writing it I'd run with his flaw being that he sees being a cop as just a job; jaded and cynical just going through the motions because it's a job. Maybe team him up with someone more idealistic and have that inspire his return to being a good guy? Or put him with a crooked cop and let him see where apathy inevitably leads?
     
  19. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Oh well I wanted him to go from good to cynical and vengeful in the last half, but I thought that the villain would be enough to do that to him rather than so much the other cops.

    There is also a crooked cop turned good character in my story, and now I have been having second thoughts, and was thinking of making him the MC, maybe. But he already knows who the villain is, and doesn't have a mystery to figure out, unlike the current MC. But he does have a deeper moral flaw that he starts out with...
     
  20. Matt E

    Matt E Ruler of the planet Omicron Persei 8 Contributor

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    The character could know the villain, but could not know enough about what's going on to connect the dots (to see that this person he already knows is behind a scheme he's encountered as a cop).
     
  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that flaws are best discovered, rather than added. I think that they can be discovered by watching for the natural tendency to correct a character's actions, and suppressing that tendency.

    A new Man Of Action (MoA) character has been wandering around in my mind looking for a story to be in. I won't go into a full character description, but in a scene in my head, a nervous character (Nervous) was pointing a gun at MoA, telling MoA not to move and fumbling for the phone to call the police. MoA, rather than standing still as ordered, just picked up what he'd come to take from the room, and left. (Actually, in a more melodramatic version of the scene, he bent to disconnect the telephone wires from the wall, then picked up what he came for and left.)

    So I discovered that MoA doesn't stop and think and analyze a situation in any conscious way. He evaluates a situation in a largely subconscious split second (perhaps this was influenced by my reading of the word Blink a while ago) and he acts. In this case, he decided that Nervous was unlikely to fire, and acted on that evaluation.

    That sort of reckless behavior strikes me as a flaw. It's a flaw that grew out of the character, rather than being pasted on. That feels "better" to me.
     
  22. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    That's true, but if he knows the villain than all he has to do is place an anamous call to the police saying that so and so is the perp behind it all, and then hang up.

    That will be enough for the police to keep their eyes on that guy, and investigate him. I mean they cannot get warrants based off that, but they can watch him and know who to concentrate on from the beginning, which I think will just send the story in different directions, if he knows the villain is from the start, and can act on it. Maybe not though...
     
  23. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Okay thanks. But if you want a character to go through a 180 degree change, will it come off that way, if he has traits of what he will become already, rather than being driven to those traits from the cause of an external event?
     
  24. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Your character, as I recall, shows an utter lack of regard for the legal system and the police department in his later actions. I think that that needs some foreshadowing, given that his adult life has presumably been lived inside the police department, supporting the legal system.
     
  25. Ryan Elder

    Ryan Elder Banned

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    Okay thanks. I thought that I could create an external event that was powerful enough to change him around completely without needing foreshadowing. I think I just don't understand the concept. I understand why an external event would change someone, but I don't know why that change needs to be foreshadowed, since the external event is obvious enough as to the emotional damage it caused. I can apply the foreshadowing, I just don't understand why it's needed when I already have the cause of the change from the external event.
     

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