1. frdycage

    frdycage New Member

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    Stuck on Character Flaws

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by frdycage, Jul 17, 2020.

    The deuteragonist of my story is a big moral absolutist. She’s the moral compass of the friend group and the wide eyed idealist. Save the whales, stop oil drilling, hates the police etc. Not quite a granola munching hippie, but more of an activist with a delinquent streak.

    And now I’m stuck trying to figure out what she needs to learn by the end of the story. In addition, how she grows what deteriorates her enough to want to change.

    I was thinking that maybe she screws up and does something selfish? An act of selfishness would definitive put her “I know all” attitude in a tailspin. And maybe she learns that it’s natural and okay to be selfish to an extent? But that feels weak.

    Was mulling it over for quite a while and ended up in a rut— so I’m all ears for any advice or suggestions.
     
  2. TheOtherPromise

    TheOtherPromise Active Member

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    To me it seems logical that her moral absolutist stance would be her flaw. That she can be very judgemental to anyone and anything that doesn't fit in line with her strict definition of morality.

    That in order to grow as a person she needs to learn that there are nuances to actions that moral absolutism doesn't account for. Have it so instead of always being the moral compass of the group she ends up being at odds with them as some of her friends become guilty of engaging in behavior she'd deem immoral, but that her other friends see the moral justification for that behavior.

    Get her to a place where she needs to make the impossible choice of either her convictions or her relationships. Or if that doesn't fit her character some other choice between her convictions and something she values equally/more.

    Of course that's just my take, mostly because I see moral absolutism as a flaw. If that isn't a message you want to have in your story than you obviously shouldn't listen to me.
     
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  3. Fervidor

    Fervidor Active Member

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    My interpretation of a character flaw, as a storytelling tool, is that can be any trait that somehow causes a problem for the character at some point in the story. This generates conflict and promotes character development as the character must not only overcome or resolve the problem, but also examine how they got themselves into that trouble in the first place and reevaluate themselves.

    I honestly don't agree with the popular consensus that flaws somehow make characters inherently "more interesting" or "more relatable." Rather, because they lead to personal conflicts and character development, this results in more engaging storytelling which makes the readers more likely to form an emotional connection with the characters. Writing a good story about a flawless character is simply much, much harder. But I digress.

    Anyway, note that by this definition, the "flaw" doesn't necessarily have to be a negative trait: It can be neutral or even positive as well. For example, a character may be too honest for their own good, resulting in them being unable to lie in a situation where lying would let them avoid a disadvantageous turn of events. Or, if we take the opposite approach, the character may be too cautious and guileful to be honest, even when that would have cleared up a conflict. Regardless, it's the context that turns the trait into a flaw.

    I guess what I'm saying is: Perhaps you are being too literal-minded about this, trying to artificially attach a personality flaw to your character so that she can learn an arbitrary lesson? Instead you might want to look at the personality you've already given her and ask yourself: "What is the most dramatic and interesting mistake a person like this might commit? How do I get her into trouble, putting her in a situation where she has to struggle with herself? And how does that fit into the story I'm telling?"

    Really, moral absolutism and naive idealism are both prime flaw material in the first place. The former makes her inflexible and uncompromising, while the latter sets her up for disillusionment. They are not "bad" qualities, exactly - arguably even admirable. But they are still potential vulnerabilities.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
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  4. Lazaares

    Lazaares Active Member

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    Sounds like a radical progressive, not a moral absolutist.

    If you assume the above is true, then you'll see that the trait isn't really a character trait, but a character's political leaning / ideology. Portraying a politically aligned character may prove difficult. You will have to ensure not one single ideology is pushed more than any other, and that dialectics are properly represented. Failing these you'll merely have a soapbox, and not a character or a character trait.

    Representing a challenge or contra-argument to radical progressives is hard too; you could easily fall into the trap of presenting a radical conservative and not a moderate. At the same time, your very story or setting may make it hard to present a counter-argument or challenge to these ideologies. Multiple perspectives and appropriate consequences can be portrayed in a political novel, but not really in a romantic comedy.
     
  5. Aled James Taylor

    Aled James Taylor Contributor Contributor

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    Knowledge is knowing what to say. Wisdom is knowing when not to say it.

    Maybe the character starts by insisting everyone agrees with everything she says. This annoys her friends and is counter-effective by pushing then into adopting opposing views when they might otherwise have partially agreed. Eventually, she learns to be more diplomatic and chooses her words and her timing more carefully.
     
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  6. Malisky

    Malisky Sirocco Contributor

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    An idea: You can make her be over-judgemental in the beginning, although she's a good spirit she's tactless. Through the story she can learn to be more understanding to other people and their flaws and somehow chill out. She didn't change ideology but the way she goes about it.
     
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  7. cosmic lights

    cosmic lights Contributor Contributor

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    A flaw doesn't always have to be a negative thing like jealousy or selfishness. It can simply be something that can get in their way and even cause their downfall. Being selfish can have it's good points. Many flaws do have a good side to them and some good traits can have a negative side. Being extremely moral can have it's bad sides to, so instead of giving her a different flaw why not explore the down side of being the moral heart. You could make it a theme of the character. Showing how being moral can be good and bad.
     
  8. Xoic

    Xoic Prognosticator of Arcana Ridiculosum

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    I agree that moral absolutism is a character flaw in itself. Her arc might be from extremism toward moderation, where she's able to see other people's positions and accept them rather than lecture from her high horse and demand compliance. I find I can get along with people on both sides of the corridor until they (or I) begin to reach levels of extremism, where they don't see people as human beings but as bullet points to be used in their narrative. Extremists divide the world up into Us and Them—their own side is unquestionably the good people (no matter what crimes against humanity they may commit in their zealotry), and the other side the bad ones. At the worst level they believe all problems can be solved by killing or imprisoning all the bad people.

    Maybe she sees herself as the moral compass, but discovers that she's actually become more like a bludgeon without realizing it—got too caught up in the cause. She could start to lose all her friends because of her moralizing and inflexibility, and has to learn that ultimately relationships with people are far more important than political posturing, that she can either end up righteous but alone and filled with loathing and guilt, or can connect with people in a meaningful way and live a more fulfilled life.
     
    Last edited: Jul 17, 2020
  9. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin We may just go where no-one's been.... Contributor

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    Agree with what some of the others have mentioned already: she sounds flawed as hell already. Almost seems as if you need a likeable trait or two to balance out the activism. Not that that's inherently "bad," but she doesn't sound like she'd be much fun at parties.
     
  10. frdycage

    frdycage New Member

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    That’s a really good point! Written out like this she does feel like a stick in the mud to have around. I’ll have to rework things a bit to play up up her empathetic and compassionate traits. Thank you!
     
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  11. frdycage

    frdycage New Member

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    No need to feel self conscious— this is a very insightful take. Thank you for taking the time to write it. You point out a thing a I didn’t think of until now: the desire for integrity deteriorates into critical perfectionism, which is unrealistic for sustaining yourself and other around you. Did I get that right? Thank you so much!
     
  12. frdycage

    frdycage New Member

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    Thank you! That’s a very good point. I’d imagine she would also probably be DEVASTATED if she were to realize that her standards are unrealistic even for herself.
     
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  13. Kallisto

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

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    Well there is such thing as moral superiority that can actually replace genuine empathy.

    Let's walk through a scenario where a personal with moral superiority and a person with genuine empathy encounters a homeless person.

    The person with genuine empathy will talk to the homeless person over the course of several days. They might bring him things he needs. They discuss his life. They find out about him. Maybe they find out he isn't staying in a shelter because he got kicked out. If that empathedic person comfronts the homeless shelter, they inform that he was kicked out for breaking rules and damaging property, and would understand the shelter's position and look for other ways to help. They discover he is a vet and has family. He helps him get in touch with charities devoted to helping vets who are homeless and they help get him in touch with family who hadn't heard from him in years.

    Note how personal this is for the homeless person. It's treating him like an individual with a unique set of circumstances and thus needs a unique set of solutions. He focuses all his attention on that one person. If he were to start a movement to help more homeless people, the empathetic individual will never lose sight of these individuals.

    Now let's compare to the person with moral superiority.

    That person will see the homeless person. They will ask immediately why he's not in homeless shelter. When he says he got kicked out, the morally superior person will march to that homeless shelter and demand they take him. The homeless shelter will try to explain that he broke the rules and damaged some of their property. The morally superior person will then go to the media and "call out" the "greedy homeless shelter." She would demand reform and change. She would force the homeless shelter to close down and put 100 people in the street. That doesn't matter to her though, because they weren't "doing it right" anyway. She would start demanding higher taxes to care for the homeless, not realizing that higher taxes would force many people to have to move out of the area. Politicians now jump on the chance to pass legislation and reform, which forces even more homeless shelters out due to "non compliance."

    Notice, how the morally superior person is only offering help by demanding it of other people. She's not getting personally involved with the individual she's supposedly crusading for. She's pushing people around. Notice how unaware or unconcerned she is of the unintended consequences of her actions. Notice how the individual she originally sought to help, has been largely forgotten as she blindly marches out as a crusader. He's become little more than tool for her virtue signalling. She may start to belittle her friends who are trying to help her understand how her actions are negatively effecting them and accusing them of "hating the homeless." In other words, the ends justify the means and anyone who is not with her is against her.

    You said she has a delinquent streak. This is great! Because she's pointing out all the wrong other people are doing, while she herself is doing wrong to others.

    I believe CS Lewis put this the best in his novel the Screwtape Letters. He states that individuals will always have some malice and some benevolence. The trick of the devil is to push the benevolence out to the wider circle to people they don't know and the malice to those who are closest to them. So the benevolence becomes largely imaginary while the malice becomes wholly real.

    So if you choose to use this model of character, what she could learn is that moral superiority does not replace empathy. She realizes she actually didn't care about these people. She only wanted an outlet for her antisocial behavior. And who could question her stealing from those rich stores while poor people are starving? That she does need to straighten out her own life. So she changes everything. And suddenly she's a better neighbor, friend, and a true activist for her causes.

    Something to consider.
     
    Last edited: Jul 18, 2020

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