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Fatal Flaws

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Dwarven Gold, Sep 8, 2011.

  1. Dwarven Gold

    Dwarven Gold Minstrel

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    Do you give your hero a fatal flaw? How do you come up with new ones that haven't been done to death?
     
  2. By definition, an epic hero has a fatal flaw. When I did my interview with MS, I focused on characterization. I spoke to the value of flaws in character realism. I think the heroes have to have flaws, sometimes serious flaws, to seem more 'real'. There is the problem of cliche, but those flaws are cliche because they are real, so I think it comes into how you twist them.

    Pride is a cliched flaw, but one to which readers can empathize. Thus, it is still usable despite the fact we've read it before. A twist could come into play by having your character have excessive pride in something that is unorthodox...say your hero takes pride in his greed or viciousness in combat...something odd.
     
  3. If I only had one flaw I'd be overjoyed. If I could actually count them I'd be thrilled. Believable characters have a lot of flaws, some bigger than others, but overall, they make mistakes. I've watched a few tv series that grasped the concept of flawed characters, and it makes a world of difference. Try watching the original battlestar galactica, then the new. The older ones are soooooo....bad. Not the special effects, or even the plots, the characters are so....good. Too good. Heroes that are too good to be true, are usually too good to be believable.

    Same thing goes with writing, characters need to be flawed, make mistakes, and in the end, become a hero through lots of work, effort, and a fair amount of doubt thrown in with the failures.
     
  4. Misusscarlet

    Misusscarlet Minstrel

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    My character has one big flaw. Cold water is like acid to her. It burns away her skin within seconds and leaves her weakened. I feel sorry for her there is cold water everywhere! Other minor flaws are a limp and a scar that will forever burn. I try to come up with a flaw that would be interesting for me to have and how I would get around with it. Like being paralyzed or mute.
     
  5. Ravana

    Ravana Istar

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    My heroes' "fatal flaws" tend to follow the lines of susceptibility to objects that are pointy, sharp or at least significantly harder than bone, usually though not always under acceleration. They also have a tendency toward oxygen-based metabolisms, and most require the regular intake, albeit in modest amounts, of compatible organic substances and dihydrogen oxide.

    Of course, that wasn't what the OP was referring to. But I think it points to the best answer to the question: make them human. They'll have plenty of "flaws," however taken.
     
    Amanita likes this.
  6. mythique890

    mythique890 Sage

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    I agree, I think the most common flaws you see in stories appear that often because they're the most common flaws in people.
     
  7. BeigePalladin

    BeigePalladin Sage

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    I don't think you can really say 'the characters flaw is X', as writing isn't a DnD campaign, so flaws are part of the presonality. but yeah, any character will have flaws (a character being a persona with character), as without them they're nothing but filler. no-one wants to read about captain perfect ever, it's just to annoying.
     
  8. Dante Sawyer

    Dante Sawyer Troubadour

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    The protagonist in my novel doesn't have a "fatal flaw" really. Now he's far from perfect, but his flaws are more natural to something that any normal person would have. He's not overly cocky, or gluttonous, or anything like that. My character, Jack, is a cynical guy who wants nothing less than to be a "hero", a "villain", or anyone of any importance. He has his own ambitions.
     
  9. UnionJane

    UnionJane Scribe

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    For my story, I thought a good starting point for a fatal character flaw (sticking to one for the moment, for simplicity) was to go Biblical with it. It seems like most fatal flaws can be traced back to the seven deadly sins--why not adapt one of the sins for your story? It makes the flaw easy enough to recognize, but the trick is how the flaw influences the story and how the protagonist has to overcome (or succumb to) said flaw.
     
  10. sashamerideth

    sashamerideth Maester

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    A fatal flaw really isn't a fatal flaw unless it proves to be... fatal. I have a character with a fatal flaw, he enjoys killing people.
     
  11. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

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    I'd give my character many flaws, but I'm not sure about fatal flaws. A hero that consistently overcomes these massive personal problems is about as realistic as a character who has no flaws at all. I just like characters to be human, and using a fatal flaw seems like a way to balance a powerful and extreme character (whether they be extremely good or extremely evil).
     
    Last edited: Sep 13, 2011
  12. Sinitar

    Sinitar Minstrel

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    I don't think it is wise to give somebody a fatal flaw. Most mistakes come from bad decisions that are influenced by a character's personality. Having a character with a dominant flaw would make him stick out like a sore thumb, because society taught everyone to work around their flaws and maybe put them to good use, assuming they can. Personally, I don't consider a huge flaw a good development part. The word itself is subjective, and there is no point in emphasizing it to the point where it's just turning your character into an unusual one.
     
  13. Bass_Thunder37

    Bass_Thunder37 Scribe

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    I actually think fatal flaws can be important, so long as they're written well. Not something like, "Burns in sunlight," or "Is too Proud to get help, (until the plot requires him to get over it)" Something more along the lines of, "Too proud to ask for help, which eventually causes his downfall, but he uses his independence to help get himself out of his little hole" If it means nothing to the plot, and is just thrown in for nothing, until your hero overcomes it when it matters, they aren't people, they're true fiction. But if it causes grief and trouble, until it explodes in their face, at which point they must exploit it, or come to grips and slowly try to change things for the better. But not without difficulty of course. I firmly believe that if you can write it well enough, nothing is cliche or terrible. There is always a way.
     
  14. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

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    That isn't my idea of a fatal flaw, where 'fatal' implies complete failure. It's a big flaw yes, but fatal is more along the lines of Superman and Kryptonite.
     
  15. Bass_Thunder37

    Bass_Thunder37 Scribe

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    That's not really a flaw, it's a weakness. A flaw is something that makes a character imperfect and realistic. A weakness is an insta-kill put in just to make a character not seem overpowered. (Atleast in writing)
     
  16. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

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    Yeah, I was struggling for an example. Perhaps pride that get's someone killed in battle is a better example. Don't get me wrong though, I love character's to have flaws, but fatal flaws? Fatal flaws aren't as realistic, I don't think, it's a bit extreme.

    And in the same way that fatal weaknesses are used to balance a characters power, I think fatal flaws are a way of balancing a character's personality (perhaps, if they are too good). There is some crossover too, like giving an over-powered villain a fatal flaw, so there is a way to defeat him (by exploiting that gigantic flaw, such as honour, or pride).
     
    Last edited: Sep 17, 2011
  17. Bass_Thunder37

    Bass_Thunder37 Scribe

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    Well, I may not have a psychology/sociology/whatever degree, but I do enjoy to disseminate and examine my friends' personality traits and behavioral patterns, and though I always find several small imperfections, they always end up, one way or another, tracing back to one main large flaw.
    Example: My (fictional) friend is always working out in his spare time. He always has to 1-up or demean people who say or do something cool. He always tries to be the center of attention. He has several agression issues: He is emotional, and very repressive. All of this leading back to one central flaw. Needs constant validation from others.
    I could give other examples, but you should see my point. Fatal flaws are unavoidable, unless A) your character is flawless. B) Their flaws are random and unrelated. (Btw, they usually extend from a major childhood event. My friend's was abuse from his dad.)

    Now these flaws may be called fatal, but that doesnt mean it WILL kill them. It means if they don't control it, it has a very good chance.
    Take my best friend for example again. Say, he's fighting a corrupt king. The king knows of this fatal flaw of his. So this is what he says.
    "Your friends don't truly love you. They're just using you. They talk about you behind your back. I know it. I'm sorry you had to go through with those fools. Come with me. We will rule together, you worshipped as prince. I will be like the father you never had."
    You would expect him to either say yes, or have a deep emotional inner battle with himself, then yell "NEVER!" and go for a killing blow. But only if he's able to control himself.
     
    Last edited: Sep 18, 2011
  18. Johnny Cosmo

    Johnny Cosmo Inkling

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    So what if they just have bog standard flaws, are they still flawless? All I'm saying is I don't think any of this warrants such an extreme term. Central flaw, as you used in your post, is actually much better - and it implies more depth than just 'fatal flaw'. I see 'fatal flaw' as vey black and white, and just way to extreme to be realistic.
     
  19. pskelding

    pskelding Troubadour

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    I like the Brandon Sanderson / Writing Excuses school of thought - a flaw is an internal problem that your character has and dealing with that flaw is your character arc. It makes your character more interesting to the reader because most will identify with that flaw in themselves or someone they know. A handicap is externally placed on the character by another character, villain, or the environment. This generates conflict for your story. Having one without the other will not give a complete story experience for your reader, especially today's demanding readers. You need to have both.

    A hero is someone trying to overcome his flaw (character arc) and battle against the handicaps placed on them (conflict).

    An antihero is someone who lives within his flaws (almost revels in them, character arc) and is called on to do something heroic (conflict).

    Villains think they are the hero but in reality they've fallen to their flaw. IE the villain is the "hero" of "their own story".

    Standard flaws work fine so long as your character resolves them in a believable way. And a character can have multiple flaws, most people do. I would recommend trying not to resolve all your character's flaws in a single story or novel though. It's not believable.
     
    UnionJane likes this.
  20. UnionJane

    UnionJane Scribe

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    I realize that most fiction tries to emulate reality, for valid reasons--so that the reader can relate to it, and see something in their selves recognizable in the story. (That's an oversimplification, but it works.) Flaws are then, naturally, something every person who lives in reality deals with, even if we don't necessarily call them "flaws" or have them cordoned off to certain sectors of our personalities. However, I find fiction that imitates fiction a little too closely more boring/tedious than a story with a protagonist who is larger than life. This is fiction! Have fun with it. Many of the stories I enjoyed as a child had a character who was too fantastic to have ever actually breathed, but that was part of the fun. That's part of what kept me hooked into fantasy as an adult. It's a balance issue, a battle of the elements within a story. Especially for us unpublished folks, don't be afraid to play your strengths, particularly at first. Don't edit yourself in such a way that your protagonist could be your neighbor, if you want them to be the corsair that has sailed the seas and has a personality (and flaw) to match it.

    I want to acknowledge that "low" fantasy--where the protagonist is a regular Joe--is never going to away and has certainly earned its place. There's always something to be said for a character who seems so down-to-earth you wished they were real so you could be best friends. It's an issue of taste in writing, whether or not you write a character who has a larger-than-life fatal flaw or an ordinary personality blemish. Sometimes you just have to bedazzle your readers, but as I said before, play your strengths.
     
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