Friday, February 6, 2015

Vibrant, Flawed Characters

It's been a week of why characters ought to be flawed. So I wanted to go some place different since piling on the excellent posts already put up this week wouldn't likely change anybody's mind at this late date.

What are we talking about when we say character flaws? For our purpose (creating vibrant, three dimensional characters) we're talking about *internal* negative states of being. Some people think giving a character a limp is enough. Physical disability of any kind is NOT a flaw by any stretch. We're looking for the ways a character's emotional make up hampers him or her. These flaws usually arise from fear - of lack, harm, isolation, - we build defensive constructs designed to protect us. Initially, they may work to some extent, but all too soon, that 'just act confident so you don't look like a victim' defense that fooled the bullies for a few days in grade school has turned into arrogance. And that is hard stuff to shake because most of us don't recognize or address the old, potent terror underlying the flaw.

Do a search on character flaws. Some fascinating posts come up. One lists the ten worst character flaws. Which makes me instantly wonder the ten worst decided by whom? Another post - a long, involved post - delves into flaws as a crucial component of the psyche, developed as a defense mechanism. It links a number of flaws together, grouping them by the inadequacy at their cores. This one goes into incredible detail, describing the anatomy of a flaw (or set thereof) and even talks about how and why we develop them in the first place.

The *really* interesting thing? Both of these sites are religious or spiritual in nature. Mastery of oneself, I suppose - both articles focus on overcoming flaws, something most of us have to do consciously, but which our characters can't do consciously. If a character is going to overcome his flaws by learning to meditate, there's a chance that's going to be one dull story.

Most of us in normal life go for minimal pain. If we're motivated to change, we're going to do it in a way that makes us least queasy. In our fiction, though, ah, in fiction, it's our job to inflict maximum pain upon our characters - to make those flaws so excruciating that changing is the only relief. Think of some of your favorite characters ever. I bet that the reason most of them are so memorable is because they didn't just struggle with whatever conflict presented itself in the story - they struggled with themselves as well. And it's that struggle that made them sympathetic and rich and identifiable to you.

So bring on the flaws. I even found a character flaw index so all of us can plumb the depths of totally messed up characters. Why yes. I am cackling. I do sound unhinged. I do so love causing my characters pain. Is that a character flaw?

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