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Sarah Daffy

How do you make your characters flawed?

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Posted (edited)

Flaws in characters can be  the thing that help them to achieve their goal or help others. 

 

 

Edited by Shamrock
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1 minute ago, Shamrock said:

Flaws in characters can be  the thing that help them to achieve their goal or help others. 

 

 

But how do I make my character flawed?

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Think of something in their nature - how they react to certain situations, opinions, people, and then give them habit, viewpoint or belief that brings out the worst in them yet to achieve their goal helps them.

 

For example, a character may be very logical which can be irritating to others but when they have to solve a problem, it is a strength. 

 

Ho[pe that helps.

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Fear. What is their deepest fear? I'm talking going deeper than a fear of heights or clowns - why does that scare them? What specific incident in their past led to that fear? 

 

Really deep fear leads people to do irrational things. At the time, they won't know that they're responding from fear. So someone who fears rejection might get angry, violently so, when his spouse announces that she's leaving him. But that anger is a front masking the fear. 

 

Once you have an idea of your character's really deep fear, put them in situations that mimick or trigger that fear. For some characters, they will respond violently, much like a cornered tiger. Others will become immobilized and unable to move or respond, right when people need them to respond the most. A couple examples that come to mind: the movie Guardian. The main character freezes during a rescue, because the situation mimicks a rescue gone wrong where his entire team died. The book 1984. The climax revolves around the main character facing his greater fear and breaking, begging his captors to inflict the punishment reserved for him on the one person he loved the most. Anne of Green Gables. One of her greatest dreams was to be beautiful, which hints then at a fear of hers - that she wouldn't be beautiful. Take that fear, combined with a short temper and the tendency to speak before thinking, and you have a broken slate and Gilbert Blithe earned himself a head ache. The movie Zootopia. Judy Hopps did have a fear of foxes, born the day Gideon Gray bullied and scratched her. This shows itself after the press conference, when Nick challenges her on her statements about predators and biology and all that. 

 

This is one way of creating believably flawed characters. There are many others besides this. 

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I think being flawed simply means you’re not perfect, you make mistakes...you get angry when you should stay calm, you talk when you should keep your mouth shut, etc. Any given person will tend to make the same kind of mistake over and over again. That’s his flaw.

 

However, as Shamrock said, a flaw could also simply be a personality quirk or oddity that actually ends up helping—Grandma must have her sofa pillows arranged just so, and that’s how she realized the burglar had entered her house—the cushions were askew.

 

Real people have a few (or a lot) of both kinds, and real-seeming characters will too.

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Posted (edited)

Every strength in a character usually comes with a weakness. It can be a wide variety of traits, but their weakness usually ties in with the plot.

 

Just a quick example: Bob is a pastor, and is considered a theological genius. He can debate circles around the best minds, preach incredibly profound sermons, and write books that challenge the knowledge of Bible scholars. But his congregation doesn't like him. Why? Because despite his phenomenal theological literacy, he has a lot of trouble relating to people. He can't understand and decode feelings, which makes him a frustrating counselor. His marriage is often strained, and he's disconnected from his children. So can you see how this character would have trouble in a plot that involves dealing with a church scandal? 

Edited by Accord64
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A weakness is a strength overused (or so I heard in a sermon once). So the loquacious outgoing type can be a gossip. The guy who gets everything done suffers from burnout but won't slow down. The tough lady won't go to the doctor when she's ill because of pride... The other interpretation of that saying is the cliche that when all you have is a hammer every problem looks like a nail. So Accord64's pastor uses his great debate skills in every situation. That outgoing type won't stop talking even when silence is needed. The burned out workhorse thinks working harder is the solution to every problem and won't set priorities or boundaries. 

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Lots of good advice on here. A character should never be a person who always makes the right decision. They should never always be praised. They should always have something that they need to learn, and always have ways in which they need to grow and change. 

 

Tying in to what @Claire Tucker and @Accord64 mentioned, what the character needs to learn is often the theme of a story. Theme is separate from the plot (which is the play-by-play of the story), though the plot drives growth toward the character learning the theme, and vice-versa. 

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Your characters flaws are the foundation of your story.

 

Weakness and need.

 

They are at the heart of what motivates most of our actions. We try to cover up our perceived weaknesses and pursue our needs and desires.

 

An example from my current WIP (that is going out under a pen name cause it deals with COVID and everybody I know is nuts about it):

 

John Robinson - John is a husband, father of six, a science teacher, and a med school drop out. His weakness is his respect for and willingness to obey authority figures without question. His need is to reunite with his family (and deliver some meds his daughter needs) who are outside a quarantine zone that he is stuck inside.

 

John tries to get a travel permit through official, respectful of authority ways. But, he ticks off the wrong guy along the way and is forced to learn when to question and disobey corrupt authorities.

 

This weakness and growth drives the whole plot of the book, and more importantly, illustrates the whole message I'm trying to communicate to my readers.

 

So many people say they hate "message fiction," but that's poppycock. All fiction is message fiction, it just varies by how skillfully the message is presented and whether or not you agree with that message.

 

 

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By placing them in many situations, watching them fail, and find out why they failed. 

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3 hours ago, RockyMtn Gal said:

Describe your character, and maybe the basic plot, for us please. Perhaps we can all brainstorm together.

 

Heidi is the twelve-year-old main protagonist. She lives at an orphanage. Raven, who is fifteen, is her best friend.  After finding out she has a rich aunt who is sending for her, Heidi is lying in bed one night contemplating this when she hears the window creaking.

 

Turns out, Raven is running away from the orphanage as well. (the reader doesn't know, but Raven heard Heidi's aunt's lawyer talking to the orphanage matron about an inheritance Heidi will receive from her dead father when she turns eighteen if she comes and lives with the aunt. Raven decides to run away and try to take the money for herself.) Heidi does not know this and decides to run away with Raven. Heidi also doesn't know that Raven is leading them to the aunt's after they have run away. Eventually they arrive at the aunt's, much to the chagrin of Heidi.

 

(I ran Heidi through a personality test and she came out as is an ISFJ, if I recall correctly. The website said that this personality type is the most willing to sacrifice itself for others. Not sure if this can help with character development, although I was aiming for her to be an extrovert. I'll see how it goes)

 

Heidi is forced to live with the aunt while Raven is forced to become a maid because the aunt doesn't want her. A couple months later, Raven sneaks in the aunt's rooms and writes out a check for herself which is the exact amount of the inheritance. Sheruns away, betraying Heidi's confidence and friendship in her. (need a little help here.)

 

After the aunt, who is named Eunice, finds out about the money, she blames Heidi and forces her to become a servant to pay off her "debt".  Five years later Heidi can't take it anymore and runs away where she meets up with either a bad guy or a policeman who has taken Raven prisoner.  Heidi takes her punishment instead. (Not sure what kind of punishment to do) In the end, either Heidi dies (a Disney Death, possibly, from the punishment) or they become friends again.

 

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6 hours ago, Sarah Daffy said:

I ran Heidi through a personality test and she came out as is an ISFJ, if I recall correctly. The website said that this personality type is the most willing to sacrifice itself for others. Not sure if this can help with character development, although I was aiming for her to be an extrovert. I'll see how it goes)

Well, it sounds like you already have one. Misplaced self-sacrifice can be a weakness. Think about some spouses/bfs/gfs who are constantly bending over backwards to please the other, and the other is just using them.

 

It also sounds like you have potential for another-misplaced trust.

Heidi sounds like a very loyal friend. Perhaps too willing to trust those she assumes are her friends- enough to ignore warning signs that Raven isn't who she pretends to be.

 

Assuming information is also a character flaw. I.e. quick to jump to conclusions. 

She already assumes that her aunt is not someone she wants to live with without ( I assume 😉) having met her. That apparently turns out to be a good instinct. However, she also assumes a lot about Raven.

Along with that could go with being too quick to speak and slow to listen.

 

Anyway, that's my two -cents. Do what you will with it. 

Hope it at least gets the wheels turning. 

 

 

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You’ll also need to determine how and why Heidi takes Raven’s punishment. It sounds like a complex situation where Heidi, being an obviously kind soul, will undoubtedly feel compassion for Raven, but Raven really injured her in the past. How do they work though this to the point where Heidi will sacrifice or die for her?
 

@RockyMtn Gal gives good advice! 
 

7 hours ago, Sarah Daffy said:

Sheruns away, betraying Heidi's confidence and friendship in her. (need a little help here.)

What is your concern about this part?

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Also, I would say, why does Heidi have confidence in Raven at that point if they are at the aunt’s house because Raven tricked her into going there?

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Just now, PenName said:

What is your concern about this part?

Was just trying to find a way for her to find out about the money being stolen and knowing Raven did it.

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Just now, PenName said:

Also, I would say, why does Heidi have confidence in Raven at that point if they are at the aunt’s house because Raven tricked her into going there?

I also need help with when they arrive in Boston. (that's where the aunt is) Heidi sees the sign and confronts Raven. Then follows a heated argument. I need a way for Heidi to be forced to go to the aunt's house.

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1 minute ago, Sarah Daffy said:

Was just trying to find a way for her to find out about the money being stolen and knowing Raven did it.

I was actually envisioning Heidi walking in on Raven writing the check. Then maybe she rips it out of the checkbook and jumps out the window on to the street. 

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2 minutes ago, Sarah Daffy said:

Heidi sees the sign and confronts Raven. Then follows a heated argument. I need a way for Heidi to be forced to go to the aunt's house.

This is hard to do without making Raven blackmail her or something equally unsympathetic, thus making her character even harder to redeem. Could they simply be spotted by the aunt?

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Just now, PenName said:

I was actually envisioning Heidi walking in on Raven writing the check. Then maybe she rips it out of the checkbook and jumps out the window on to the street. 

Good idea! But Raven was a maid and she was cleaning the room. How would Heidi be able to just walk in? After all, her aunt would probably be a little displeased that she refused to come the first time when she ran away from the orphanage.

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Just now, PenName said:

This is hard to do without making Raven blackmail her or something equally unsympathetic, thus making her character even harder to redeem. Could they simply be spotted by the aunt?

How? The aunt probably doesn't know what Heidi looks like.

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Just now, Sarah Daffy said:

How would Heidi be able to just walk in? After all, her aunt would probably be a little displeased that she refused to come the first time when she ran away from the orphanage.

Are you thinking Heidi cannot roam the house freely? If she is the sort of character who will eventually run away, having her wander about the house when she is not supposed to could be good setup.

 

2 minutes ago, Sarah Daffy said:

How? The aunt probably doesn't know what Heidi looks like.

What is the time period? I would say the easiest way is if she has a photo. 

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1 minute ago, PenName said:

What is the time period? I would say the easiest way is if she has a photo. 

1840s. I keep forgetting to mention it.

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