When I decided to write this blog posting, I didn’t know a lot about character flaws. I knew that characters were more realistic with them but I didn’t fully understand how they would affect the story. Now that I’ve done some research and wrote this blog, I’ve decided that having a flaw in your character is not only a good thing, but a required thing as well.
What is a flaw? I decided to begin with looking that one up. I headed over to www.dictionary.com and it provided me with the following;
- a feature that mars the perfection of something; defect; fault: beauty without flaw; the flaws in our plan.
- a defect impairing legal soundness or validity.
- a crack, break, breach, or rent.
The first definition says it flawlessly, “…mars the perfection…” We’ve all heard the saying that nobody’s perfect and that includes our characters, especially our characters. The days of the Hero wearing a white hat and is never wrong are behind us. If you want a wonderful story (screenplay or prose) you need to have your Hero make a few mistakes. But there’s more to it than just a mistake or two, a flaw is designed to keep the character from reaching his full potential. If it wasn’t for the flaw, the character would have no difficult achieving his goal and there would be no point in watching the movie.
Often the flaw of choice for a Hero is fear. Fear of failing, fear of falling in love, fear of the unknown, the fear of getting hurt. I’m working on a fleshing out a story idea right now and the Hero is a man who has everything in the world going for him and in a moment it is all ripped away from him on page 10. His love is lost, his fame is lost and his wealth is lost. For the remainder of the first act, Jonathan has nothing and wants nothing for fear of losing it again. His family tries to help him rediscover life, but he turns his back on them and pushes them away. He turns to the joy of the bottle and his drunk for much of the first act.
A character uses his flaw as a crutch or as a shield to protect him from something he doesn’t want to deal with. Part of the screenplay is about your character overcoming his flaw in order to succeed at the end. Where the question could be, will the Hero be able to get on stage again? It is the character’s flaw that puts the doubt into the answer. Of course he will, but if the fear is strong enough, your audience may be wondering if the answer is in fact no.
Often the purpose of the Friend is help the Hero overcome his flaw, even if he doesn’t realize it’s there, and the Villain’s job is to play on that flaw. While the lead singer tells the Hero that his fans are still there if he just gets on the stage, the drummer believes that the band’s time has come and gone and there’s no point. Neither character would mention the flaw directly; however they are working both sides of it. There’s enough yin and yang to cause the Hero to doubt his ability enough to keep him off the stage.
Once the flaw is overcome the Hero feels liberated and able to do whatever he sets his mind to and that means the story is coming to an end. Unless you nearing page 90, don’t let your character overcome his flaw. Often that moment is the second plot point at the end of act two. Remember The Simpson’s Movie? There is a scene where Homer, alone in the forest is trying to figure out what’s important to him. It’s a funky scene where Homer ‘comes apart’ and the trees put him back together. This I believe the shift into the third act because it is here where the Hero realizes what he needs to do. Everything after this point is how Homer achieved his goal and saved Springfield from the evil EPA man. I use this reference because it is obvious. Homer sets out to figure things out and he does. He over comes his flaw and does what needs to be done.
Overcoming a flaw is known as Character Growth and his something very important to your story. The movie ends after your Hero learns something about himself. If there is no learning your audience is going to feel like they didn’t get their twelve bucks worth. Homer learned that the most important thing about him is his family. He risked his life to save them, which is something he would not have done at the beginning of the movie. His flaw could be defined as selfishness. He only thought about himself. It should be the same for your Hero as well. In the piece I’m writing my story won’t end until after my Hero learns that success is not measured with money but rather love.
Every character should have a flaw. We’re all flawed. The character who is your Hero’s friend should have a flaw of their own, but the difference between your Hero and your Friend is that the Friend doesn’t have to overcome their flaw. It’s not there story, they’ll need to wait until the sequel.
Now I need to get back to my screenplay. Until next time,