Plot and Character: The Flaw

Last time, I suggested that character arc is half the battle when it comes to story. In it, I briefly mentioned that all characters should have a flaw to overcome. This week I’m going to focus on that some more.

What makes for a good flaw? Anything that will stop your character from getting past all the obstacles and accomplishing his or her goal. As long as the character fails to overcome the flaw, winning is impossible. For example, in my current work, the protagonist Rasuke has the idea in his head that it’s just a cutthroat world where everyone is only out for their own interests. He thinks other people only act nice when they need something from him, and he can’t trust anyone at all.

The flaw will always be there. In the beginning of your story, it might not give your character much trouble, because he or she knows how to work around it. It’s later, when things really begin, that the flaw will begin to show its ugly face. Going back to my own example, Rasuke has been going through the motions without letting anyone in. When he finds himself close to a crime scene, though, his mistrust turns into paranoia, causing him to run away from home. And even when he gets out into the world, he refuses to make friends. That stops him from ever really thriving.

Your character usually spends the middle of  the story just like this, shooting himself/herself in the foot. The problem is going to keep snowballing until nobody can ignore it. If you have a villain, that antagonist is going to take notice and start playing on your character’s weakness. There’s no way around it: as long as that flaw is there, the character will never be able to win.

It’s around the halfway point that the character might start to become aware of the flaw. He or she might even start trying to overcome it, even with a little success. But it’ll still persist, and so will the outside force that the character has to face. That’s a great way to build a lot of tension–by ramping up the conflict both inside and out. And eventually, the character is going to snap.

There are several names for the three-quarters mark of the story. I like to call it the crisis. This is the point where the character’s flaw is at its very peak, ruining his or her life completely and making victory all but unthinkable. After the crisis, the character takes some time to reflect and truly understand what he or she has been doing wrong. This empowers your hero to finally win. (Other theories put these events leading up to the three-fourths point, making the important spot the beginning of that comeback. You don’t have to be exact, though, so it’s not that different.)

Finally, at the climax of your story, the flaw is gone. In fact, the climax is where the character shows off, in the most intense way possible, that his or her flaw has been conquered. The villain has been counting on that weakness to be there, and without it, the evil plan falls apart. That is the main reason that good wins: because the hero has grown.

You can think of all these stories as metaphors for having an “intervention” for someone, if you want. Hopefully, though, your story is a bit more exciting than that!

Well, there you have it. I’ve just explained, from start to finish, what character arc really is. Next week, I’ll delve into more aspects of character that are also essential to crafting a great story.

Categories: Fiction Tips.

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