1. Kaya S

    Kaya S New Member

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    How do you add flaws to a character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Kaya S, Jan 1, 2017.

    Okay, so here is the deal: we all know that in order to make relatable real characters they have to be flawed in order for them to be human.

    How do you make Mr. Right be Mr. Right-but not perfect?

    How do you go about adding flaws to a character and still make him likable and lovable?

    What are some solutions you all use for developing characters?
     
  2. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I don't really think in terms of flaws and strengths - the same characteristic could be a flaw in some situations, a strength in others.

    I just try to make a character who--I don't know, who's real.

    In Romance, I think you can use the central conflict of your romance as a way to figure out the character's weaknesses. (This may work for most genres?). Like, if your central conflict is that the hero and the heroine come from families that have been at war with each other for generations, then maybe your hero is really proud and really dedicated to his family. These are strengths in many situations, but in terms of hooking up with the "enemy" female, they're weaknesses.

    Different characteristics will apply for different types of conflict, obviously...
     
    Last edited: Mar 26, 2017
  3. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    Think of real people you know - family, friends. You love them, sure, but do you love every part of them? My brother is my best friend, but the man will not wash a dish to save his life, and given that we're roommates that certainly grates on me. Doesn't mean I don't find him likable and lovable, because the positives still outweigh the negatives.

    Now, when it comes to characters, it'll be a bit hit and miss because every reader will have different ideas of what's acceptable. If you're trying to make really morally gray/questionable characters it's tough to balance the positives and negatives, but if you're not going that far and just need regular people with regular flaws, you want mostly positives. I could name a ton of my brother's positive qualities. If you have your "Mr. Right" already fairly developed, you have those. But if he's a real person, there will be little things about him that are annoying, too.

    Ideally, you want his negatives to be stemmed from his positives and vice versa. Again, think of real life people to understand this. My brother is laid back about the state of the house, and that's a positive to living with him stress-free, but the negative is that when cleaning needs to be done, I'm the one who does it. Or think of well-rounded fictional characters. Harry Potter is impulsive and hot-headed (negative), but that also manifests as bravery and righteousness (positive). Maybe a character is very protective, and that's great when the MC's scared, but they're also controlling; they want to keep the MC in a safe little bubble. Maybe a character's hyper-empathetic and that makes them a great confidante for the MC, but they're also not very loyal because they can't help but always be sympathetic to every side of an argument.
     
  4. ready4freddy

    ready4freddy New Member

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    That was helpful, for me, anyway. Especially the insight to have the flaws stem from the positives and vice versa. That's true to real life, so it helps when creating good characters. I didn't start the thread, but thanks!
     
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  5. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, I agree with @BayView here, and I want to add a tidbit that she describes perfectly in her take on this question:

    Oftentimes, in the world of writing, we use terms that can unfortunately mislead. Flaw sounds like such a negative, right? In the normal world of talking to other people, a flaw is that someone is, for example, generally a dick or cheats on his/her spouse. It's something that's always a negative. That's not the case as regards how we use that term in writing about characters. I mention this because this dynamic comes up with a lot of other terms we use in writing. Show vs. tell, for example. An argument can be made that a story is always being told, so it's all tell. No. When we talk about show vs. tell in writing, we're talking about different ways of presenting the data, and we have to accept that tell means something different in that conversation. So, approach these terms with care.
     
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  6. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    For me, it's as simple as making the character make mistakes. We all make mistakes, sometimes horrendously. But we're often judged by our loved ones on how we rebounded from, or make up for said mistakes.

    I never worry about a character being irredeemable because my protagonists who make mistakes go out of their way to make it right.

    Obviously this doesn't apply to every story, but in the more literary, character driven stuff I write, this seems to be a pretty good strategy for me to make a character who is ultimately good, but does some questionable shit sometimes.

    Also motive is a pretty good way to keep the empathy going. As long as a reader understands the motive, it's pretty easy to still elicit empathy, I think, anyway.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I wonder if there's an element of "serving the plot" or... no, not that, but maybe "serving the story" that comes into play.

    Like, we talk about antagonists as being the force that prevents the protagonist from achieving her goals. They don't have to be evil or even deliberately obstructive, they're just in the way. And maybe we can look at "flaws" in a similar way. They're not flaws like we'd use the term in daily life, but they're elements of the character that keep her from achieving her goals in the story. Being hard-working isn't a flaw in real life, but if the theme of the story is that the protagonist needs to relax and find time for her loved ones, then it's a flaw for story purposes. It's an obstacle.

    Fiction is constructed. The elements can be one thing in the story, even if they aren't that thing in real life.

    (Sorry, possibly this is all redundant. I just feel like I'm dancing around some sort of Unified Theory of Everything (Fiction Version) but I can't quite pin it down...)
     
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  8. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributor Contributor

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    I totally buy this. It easily quantifies what character flaws should do.
     
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  9. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes, this. Clearly not as easy to package and sell in a nice single-serving wrapper as the word flaw, but I think it hits much, much closer to the mark. ;)
     
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  10. ChaseTheSun

    ChaseTheSun Senior Member

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    Don't think about it too much, don't try and pre-empt and strategise too much. The nuances of flawed but lovable (aka realistic) characters are impossible to put into a one-size-fits-all box. Different characteristics from different people come across very differently. The best way to create realistic flaws within a lovable person is to focus on creating a whole, holistically realistic character. The only way you can really create a realistic character is to spend time with them, allow them to share themselves with you and reveal their layers bit by it as they feel ready to.

    You could try a kind of interview technique (this is a very polarizing topic; people tend to either hate it or love it). I actually constructed my own exhaustive character interview, which I shared with the WF community over here on this thread. I personally find this technique is helpful to get to know my characters and understand the nuances of their personalities. Otherwise disconnected behaviours and opinions become consistent and connected through establishing context through events/teaching/fears/conversations/etc to which the character has been exposed.

    Another thing you could do is write down a list of characteristics of some people in your life who you know well and love. I adore my mum but my god if there is one person to make my blood boil, it's her. If I were to write down a list of all her characteristics, behaviours and attitudes, I would see a consistent thread of cause and effect between certain contexts within her life so far that inform who she is today. Once you write a list of the positives and 'negatives' of a person you know, you will be able to see the congruence (or lack of, in same cases) between their life context and their personality. This should help you to understand how your characters could be lovable but still flawed.

    All the best! :)
     
  11. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    Flaws can be related to expectations. There is a great western movie about a sailor who moves to the old American west. I forget the set up, but, he is in love with this lady and is trying to win her over. The trouble is, he is nothing like she expected him to be, as her ideals come from the men already around her. Another problem is, he is very prideful yet modest to a fault. Example, the lead ranch hands tries to pick a fight with him. He backs down and is seen as a coward. Later on, he confronts the cowboy alone. They fight and he wins. But, he insists that the cowboy doesn't tell anyone of the fight and the outcome.
    There is another woman who sees through his little game and falls in love with him. But, he is in love with this other woman that, as the movie goes on, sees him more and more of a loser. At the end, he realizes what a fool he is and opens up to the community instead of estranging himself. Also, he dumps the woman he had loved(who now sees him as a winner) and falls in love with the other woman.
    A long winded post, I know. But, I've always drawn upon this as a wonderful example of negative/positive character traits in the light of perception vs reality.
    Godspeed!
     
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  12. peachalulu

    peachalulu Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Keep it real. One of my characters Eff is an unapologetic bigot everyone makes his shitlist. He's been beat, molested, pimped out. He's ignorant as teachers just keep pushing him along in school and he may or may not be schizophrenic. I keep him lovable because I have the mc, Finlay, love him (Eff is his best friend) and he tolerates Eff's abuse and anger because Eff kinda does it in a humorous dimwitted way. And because Finlay is a loving person who is always looking for a father figures. That's all both of them knows. I'm not out to say look how vile this person is. Or look at his numerous flaws. Or wouldn't the world be better off without people like Eff. Nope. I'd rather the reader feel multiple things – outrage, sympathy, pain, and humor. And even use Eff to expose the reader's own hypocrisies.

    For a character who isn't so flawed liked Finlay I decided to add anger, rebellion, mouthiness. And this just stems from what will best work for the story itself and the situation. Finlay's father left when he was four, he lives with his slightly nervous and pushy mother who's trying to get him an acting gig to pay the bills. The fact that she is so intrusive on Finlay it just seemed natural he'd push back.

    You're character arch and whatever contrasts well with the plot should help you pick the right mixture for your character. Things should never be running too smoothly for your character. Flaws add that element of danger and intrigue. Because if they did the right things, thought the right things life/the story would go too smoothly.
     
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  13. xanadu

    xanadu Contributor Contributor

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    There was a topic similar to this a while ago. I posted this:

    I'm definitely in line with @BayView and @Wreybies here. You have facets of characters that work for or against them in certain situations. You have facets of characters they like about themselves and facets they don't. I don't think we need a chart of Flaws and Virtues to have a well-rounded character. We just need realistic personalities and behaviors that clash, contradict, and make the humans we create as imperfectly human as we are.
     
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  14. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    You might also write extended scenes, especially of dialogue. Allow your characters to interact together. It will be work that you might edited or leave out entirely, but, might give you some clues and insights into your characters that will be meat for your story. Here's an example from my story. The characters is Neira, a half-elf and Ssegai, a human. They are 'friends' because of the MC. Here's a snippet of an extended scene of dialogue:

    Neira is talking to Ssegai about the MC
    “She has a power I failed to see—“
    “Because she’s a human. I know what elves think of…us…humans.”
    Neira nods. “You see the way that Kivith looks at her! We—“
    “We?”
    Neira stares at Ssegai. “I'm a half-elf and a half-elf isn’t elf."
    “You’re certainly not human.”
    Neira lock eyes with the wizards; rising to her feet. “I only wish that was true.”

    Now, even though this isn't a scene I will use, I have learned a bit of nastiness concerning Ssegai that I hadn't expected to see. Planning a character will not put you in the mind and heart of that character. It is writing that will do that.
    Godspeed!
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
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  15. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    From what I can gather from the others, is not flaws but conflict.
    Good old conflict, something I have heard is the only reason to
    have every scene dripping with it. :p

    So yeah I would say you should work on the conflict angle,
    if you are having realistic people. Have fun people can
    be conniving, petty, and generally unpleasant when they
    have a mind for it. So venture forth and writeth the woe
    of jealousy and backstabbery (minus the actual stabby part). :)
     
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  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm concerned about the phrase "adding flaws". I realize that it's a nitpick, but I would see it as "finding flaws". The flaw should come out of the character's nature, and if you've created the whole character and only then pick a flaw to tack on, it's likely to work badly.
     
  17. Jupie

    Jupie Senior Member

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    It depends on the characters. Sometimes you don't really need to focus on their flaws at all. It doesn't stop them from being dimensional in any way, and it doesn't have to appear as they're perfect, either. But some people you meet are just generally very likeable and lack the main vices (i.e easily jealous, angered, selfish, etc). So long as they don't start appearing superhuman, the reader might just grow as fond of that character as you. Some do stand out for their great characters, rather than their downsides. But, a good example is someone like Hans Hubermann in 'The Book Thief', who is generally just a wonderful guy. His flaws are more humorous than serious, such as drinking or being laid back about everything. His 'flaws' are also turned around -- for instance, he may be seen to have a lack of ambition, but actually it's because he enjoys the simple life and doing what he loves, which is painting. That way he never had a problem in the first place.

    People love conflict, but that can arise from something other than their flaws, like the situations happening around them, or a sad past. While I don't think anyone is without flaws, I do think there are some who are free of anything which would be seen as seriously negative.
     
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  18. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I like to separate conflict from tension. Here is my example of the difference:

    German battleship Bismarck is trying to break into the Atlantic. Two British battleships intercept him.
    Now, on the bridge of the Bismarck is an admiral and the captain. The Admiral is a 'raider' commander, his experience has been to avoid warships and go after shipping. The captain is a traditional battleship guy who training is to engage enemy warships.
    As soon as the British is within range, they begin hurling shells at the German ships.
    This is what I consider to be conflict.
    The admiral is in command, so, he is maneuvering his ships into a position to optimize firing distance and break off combat at the first opportunity. As British shells crash in the ocean around them, the captain doesn't say a word, but, he is seething because he would be positioning his ship for a direct engagement.
    This is what I consider to be tension.

    While conflict is cool, to me it tension that is the meat of a drama. People are not alike. It isn't a matter of character flaws, it just playing to the character's individual differences. In my opinion.
    Godspeed!
     
    Last edited: May 11, 2017
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  19. Teresa Mendes

    Teresa Mendes Member

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    May I suggest a book? The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer's Guide to Character Flaws is helping me a lot. It presents a list of flaws and how they translate to behavior, thoughts, situations, etc. You also have the Positive Trait Thesaurus. =)
     
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  20. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    I second this recommendation. I have the entire Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglist 'Thesaurus' series. The series is geared towards the new writer, which is perfect for me.
     
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  21. jannert

    jannert Who? Whooo? Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. In addition to what the others on this thread have said, I'd definitely second this one. It's during interactions that a character's personality comes to life. And this is where the surprise comes in, for the writer anyway. You might learn about 'a bit of nastiness' in a character which you hadn't planned for. Or other characteristics. This is definitely how I built my characters. It worked for me.

    Put your character in with other people and see how he or she gets on. When you do it this way, your character's 'flaws' or 'weaknesses' or 'traits' will come through much more naturally than they will if you just look them up in a Character Flaws Encyclopedia and tack them on.
     
  22. Ettina

    Ettina Senior Member

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    Don't just build "character + flaws". The flaws should flow organically out of what makes this person unique. Very often, the same thing that is a strength is also a weakness.

    For example:

    A loyal character can ignore the flaws of someone they care about out of feelings of loyalty. For example, they might be loyal to their asshole friend or messed-up ex or dysfunctional family member, causing friction between them and their new partner. Or they might stick in a relationship that really isn't working because they feel loyal to their partner.

    A passionate character with strong ideals could get overly upset when someone disagrees with them or doesn't share their ideals, or potentially even be hurtful and cruel to them. They could fall into the trap of seeing people who disagree as evil rather than just not sharing that particular set of values.

    A rational character could fail to recognize when the situation calls for an emotional approach rather than a logical one. They could come across as cold and unemotional, frustrating their partner who wants to know how they feel. Or they could come across as unsympathetic because their partner wants sympathy and they're focused on trying to solve the problem instead.

    Pretty much any good trait can be bad under certain circumstances.
     
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  23. Mrs.Smith

    Mrs.Smith Member

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    In a novel I read recently, the main character received devastating news and had a very human reaction to it - she lost her damn mind and behaved irrationally. As I was reading, I kept thinking, "NO! You can't DO that! That's some crazy shit right there and you're either going to jail or hell or both!" But the way the author explained the character's reasoning, I could easily see myself or any number of my friends doing similar things on impulse when upset. We've all kind of gotten used to characters in books behaving like our better selves, the way we'd like to THINK we would act. But in reality, has any of us ever been our best self during every ugly situation we've faced? Hardly. We're human. Let your characters be human too, not just reflections of your best self.
    Most main characters would not go key the car of the woman who slept with her husband because that's crazy drama that will make your reader uncomfortable. But it does happen in real life, and if that crazy moment of keying the car of this other woman who messed up her life can lead your character to a learning moment or to an event that takes her to rock bottom, then let her key the car so she can climb up from rock bottom! Or let her get right up to the side of it, keys in hand, then wake up from her fog and CHOOSE a different path and give her good reasons to do so - not just fear of being arrested for vandalism.
    I'll also say this, although that novel made me uncomfortable at times, at the end when she'd learned more about her true self and what she was capable of, and capable of overcoming, it was a far better ending than any I've read in a while. No, it wasn't packaged in shiny paper with a big red bow, but it was REAL and made me think about how I handle things in my own life. And that's ultimately what you want your reader to do.
     
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  24. Stormburn

    Stormburn Contributor Contributor

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    This really an excellent post.
     
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  25. MDUwnct

    MDUwnct Member

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    Sounds like a great movie, and one I would love to see, can you remember the name of it?
     

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