Sunday, February 14, 2016

The Flaws In Our Characters

Hello everyone! The carousel of donkeys and piña coladas is spinning. Try not to fall off! This week I want to discuss character flaws. Not mine... that would take a few hundred novels. No, I want to talk about the flaws of characters in stories. Fictional stories and are in no way factual and in no way about me personally. Although every character I write is a bit like me *sobs*.  Show me a character with no flaws and I'll show you a blank page with gravy stains on it. Don't lick the page. The stains aren't recent.

In order to write a realistic character they have to have some kind of flaw. Something that will cause them trouble at some point. Conflict pushes the story, so this is an important part of building a character. When I am building a character I usually use the GURPS Role Playing System as a guide to help with construction. Remember to wear your hard hat and always follow the instructions! The character flaws are listed as disadvantages and quirks in that system. These are the things that make your character fun to write and give them depth. Your character's abilities and skills help them advance the story and level up, but these flaws pop up and give your characters some color. So let's get our crayons and give someone purple skin with a lime green hat.

Building A Flaw

Let's pull out our construction paper, Legos, popsicle sticks, and anything else we can use to build the house that will contain all our flaws. The anatomy of a flaw seems simple enough, but it requires a mean streak toward your characters. Pick a big stick because we're going to poke at the characters insecurities, fears, and influences. So how do we insert a flaw into a fictional character?
  • Use A Construct - This is a template that has been used before many times and has an expected set of rules associated with them. The vampire, the jock, the golem, the cheerleader, the Godzilla, the shy girl, and so on. The same tropes follow these kinds of characters around like a lost puppy. The opportunity to poke fun at or break these conventions is almost impossible to resist when using these. Look at the many vampire novels that all have their own set of rules. Twilight for example and their rave going glitter vamps. Look at Harry Potter and the depiction of wizards in that series. To me it almost feels like cheating to use these constructs, but sometimes we use them without thinking about it.
  • Insecurities And Fears - We all have our own. What does this fictional character fear more than anything? Their loved ones dying? Not getting a participation ribbon in the pie eating contest? Being left behind holding the purse? Question yourself over what makes your character squirm. Our fears push us into action. A young boy insecure over his looks, so he wears a mask imbued with magic. A woman fearing that anyone else in charge will screw it up, so she tries to conquer the world.
  • Compulsion - What compels the character? The power of Christ? Are they unable to resist coffee and donuts? Perhaps they have a problem with drugs, alcohol, gambling, stripping naked to dance the Macarena.... There are many things that can compel us to do things even if it is against our will. Perhaps the character owes money to the mob and the only way to settle the score is to take out a pesky witness. Maybe the character has to go to every carnival they see because the prizes are so fluffy.
  • Physical - Every scar has a back story. They can cause hesitation or doubt to creep into the mind. Perhaps the character's thumb was broken and never healed properly, so now they can only slip one hand out of the handcuffs using the thief guild's special technique. They could have torn an ACL and now they can't jump as high as Princess Uni-Kitty. Now they can only think of how they used to win the Lego high jump event with regret. This could be something as small as they can't wink, or something as big as they are a sentient and disembodied brain floating around in a world of zombies.


If it is too good to be true then it probably isn't. Show me the flawfax! Flaws give the character a contradictory component to their personality that makes it feel more realistic. Flaws enhance the personality and give us all a reason to root for the character to overcome them. People fall down sometimes, but we get back up. Characters need to do the same.

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