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Your Character's Fatal Flaw

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by GeekDavid, Oct 16, 2013.

  1. GeekDavid

    GeekDavid Auror

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    I found this article from BookLaurie.com interesting... not sure if I am completely sold on the "enneagram" concept yet, but it's worth considering.

    Laurie Campbell - BookLaurie.com
     
  2. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    There appears to be something to it, there are so many stereotypical characters that can fit into these categories.

    I personally use Cattell's 16 personality factors to help me flesh out my characters. I go over the list and think about my character under each aspect. Then I dream up how they react in different circumstances and think about what represent flaws and what changes they might make. People shift at least slightly, or they compensate for their default behavior.

    16 Personality Factors - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    This is supported by modern psychology. Some feel this is too expansive and prefer to use "the big five".

    Big Five personality traits - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    I think the big five is useful for brevity in discussing profiles, but for character design, I find the 16 to be very useful for me. The big five is a nice complement to it.

    In the end, it just a tool for me to imagine my character reacting in different situations, and that actually helps build my story because I imagine how the characters clash with each other.

    Super-simple example, under Privateness, if one character is guileless, but the other is private - then the guileless character will say things that embarrass and frustrate the private character, as they reveal things they would rather not have known. Right there, that creates a little friction. If there are many differences or very key differences (say Rule-Consciousness) that can lead to major conflicts if one character disregards rules and the other is rule bound.

    I find some attraction to the idea of the fatal flaw. I just think the enneagram is a bit simplistic. People are more complex than that.
     
    Last edited: Oct 16, 2013
  3. Ireth

    Ireth Myth Weaver

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    Seconded. Cadell, the MC of my latest NIP, is a Nine in the sense that he is (or grows to be) a pacifist, yet that doesn't mean he's laid back and just lets stuff happen. He makes a stand against his peers for and because of his pacifism, and encourages others to follow his lead. That is what lands him in trouble around the climax of the book.
     
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  4. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    It's like reading your horoscope. Yours sure sounds like you, but then, so do the other 11. ;)
     
  5. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    Yeah, what you get when you're tested varies widely depending on your current mood. You can still use it for character design, but I've never found it very useful.

    Personally, I like to fit the design tool to the story. For instance, one of my stories is about religion versus atheism and freedom versus happiness, so I have one Christian and one atheist who're trying to be free, and one . . . pagan, sort of, and one atheist who want to be happy. In another story, I discuss heroism, so I have a heroine who relies on her wits, a hero who relies on his strength, and a heroine who gets by on raw, unearned magical power. (For thematic reasons, I specifically didn't include a hero who relies on the power of moral conviction, but I have another story planned that showcases three different kinds of them!)
     
  6. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

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    I, too, find these tools mildly interesting but never actually useful. For one thing, I'm dealing with non-human peoples, so howzat supposed to work? But even within humans, I have characters who are eleven years old or fifteen years old. These are not fully-formed personalities.

    Ultimately, all I can do is throw them into situations and see how they cook. I've got a group of four characters in my current WIP, and three of them are pretty clear, but one just refuses to come into focus. I keep trying to write him out and he keeps wandering back on stage, but damned if I can make him be anything striking.

    I think the problems with whatever-grams is that they are abstract. Like a horoscope, they hang in space, detached from my specific characters and their specific situations. Once the characters are written I might say "oh, she is like this and that" but I can't take this and that and impose them on my character arbitrarily. Good for genning up an RPG character, but not so much for writing stories.

    YMMV, of course.
     
  7. Malik

    Malik Auror

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    Great tool, but it's much more fun to just go around silently deconstructing every person you ever meet.
     
  8. Kn'Trac

    Kn'Trac Minstrel

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    When I am working on characters, I usually try to put it on a character sheet for the roleplaying game that best fits the system. I start from a concept, go through history, personality, wants, needs, quirks, odious habits and by the time I'm done, I have a pretty complete sense of who that character is, where he came from and what the character's goals in life are.

    I understand though that this doesn't work for everyone, just adding my 2 cents' worth.
     
  9. Dragev

    Dragev Scribe

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    I tried my hand at a small D&D with friends and the character construction from their rulebooks is quite nice; it's only the most basic traits, obviously needs a bit of fleshing out, but their "how would my character react in situation x" could help getting a general idea of what kind of person a given character is.
     
  10. Kn'Trac

    Kn'Trac Minstrel

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    Indeed, and some roleplaying games, such as Vampire: The Masquerade, Fading Suns, Conspiracy - X, ... go in much deeper detail of who you are, where you come from and what makes you tick.
     
  11. Guy

    Guy Inkling

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    I don't think I've ever sat down and tried to construct a character. They just sort of happen all by themselves. I've gone through periods where for several days I had characters popping up in my head like mushrooms after a heavy rain. I write them down and when I have a story idea I have a mental casting call and decide which characters would work.

    Works better, too.
     
  12. Scribble

    Scribble Archmage

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    That is what happens to me as well, I like the mushroom analogy.

    I don't construct a character so much as refine and deepen them. The 16 factors I mentioned (16 Personality Factors - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia) is a sort of mental prompt to help me think about all these aspects of my character, to be sure I know who they are. I find sometimes I get blinded by 2 or 3 key attributes and think they are "known", then when I try to write them I find I only "know" them at a superficial level.

    That's enough for a walk-on character, but for a primary character I want them to have a rich inner and a rich outer life shaped over time by each. This is just something I stumbled upon in psychology classes that I found useful to writing.
     
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  13. Chessie

    Chessie Guest

    I'm with Guy. I like to develop my characters organically. There are some people that intrigue me and I go from there, but usually characters pop up for me with certain characteristics and I follow their lead.
     
  14. Helen

    Helen Inkling

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    Me neither.
     
  15. Feo Takahari

    Feo Takahari Auror

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    I avoided mentioning this earlier, since it's more of a personal opinion, but I guess there's no harm in mentioning it. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors follows a group of nine characters, each of whom is based on one typology on the enneagram. One of the reasons I'm not sold on the enneagram for character design is that I found several of the the NHNPND characters to be highly annoying--for instance, the main character's obviously supposed to be a Chief, but without the ability to calm down and look rationally at a problem, he lacks genuine leadership skills and comes across as an incompetent fool. To be fair, the problem is less the enneagram itself than a failure to develop the characters beyond the enneagram, leaving them as archetypes rather than fleshed-out individuals. Still, I think it serves as something of a caution against relying too heavily on easy methods of creating a cast.

    (Then again, the massive popularity of NHNPND, and the number of people who absolutely loved characters I thought were annoying, might suggest I'm the one with the problem here . . .)
     
  16. Dragev

    Dragev Scribe

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    "Fools might number in thousands but they will still be fools, and the blind love of many is no sign of true worth" ;)

    I have not read NHNPND but characters that have only one trait sounds awful.
     
  17. Kn'Trac

    Kn'Trac Minstrel

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    True that, very one dimensional.
     
  18. Mythopoet

    Mythopoet Auror

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    These "9 types" sound terribly one dimensional. As far as personality analysis goes I've always found Myers-Briggs more useful. (I've found the descriptions of the INTJ type to be spot on for me.) But I'm not a big fan of such things in general. I'd rather just imagine people my own way.
     
  19. Jabrosky

    Jabrosky Banned

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    I find it helps to take a character's occupation into account when designing their personality or mindset. For a queen who regards herself as godlike, for instance, arrogance would seem the most natural flaw. For a warrior, that would be a short temper, a vindictive tendency, or maybe overconfidence in their own fighting abilities. Then of course you have cultural background and personal experiences that can influence a character's interactions with their world.

    That said, you may also subvert expectations or stereotypes to create some really unique characters.
     
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