IF YOU want your characters to jump off the page as your readers progress through your story, they must be believable. In fact, there are many key ingredients to creating vivid, life-like characters. I've covered the subject of character development in a previous blog post, (you can check that out here,) but today I'm talking about fatal flaws.
First, let's make sure we're on the same page. What exactly is a fatal flaw?
Fatal Flaws -- a Brief Introduction
Fatal Flaw -- a literary device that can be defined as a trait in a character leading to his downfall. The character is often the hero of the literary piece. This trait could be the lack of self-knowledge, lack of judgement and often it is hubris (pride).
No two characters in your world are alike. They have likes and dislikes, obsessions and fears. Their point of view of the world is unique. Their minds work in different ways. Their past experiences dictate the individual way they respond in any given situation, and it's this that makes a fatal flaw so deeply rooted within your characters.
So, why is this important and how does it fit into my story?
I'm so glad you asked.
The Varying Types of Flawed
Despite its misleading name, fatal flaws don't always have to be fatal -- they can range from minor inconveniences to major impediments. However, whatever degree of flaws your character possesses, they will always interfere with his or her journey.
Your character's fatal flaw (or flaws) will be a part of them, a negative trait or quality that comes as naturally to them as breathing. They may or may not be aware of them. They can like or dislike them, but they can't run away from them. Examples of such flaws are a quick temper, jealousy, pride or cowardice. And they don't always have to be a directly negative trait, either. Sometimes you can take a positive quality and amplify it, until its crippling effects become indirectly negative. For example, selflessness, ambition, perfectionism, and self-preservation.
Despite its origin, though, there will come a time within your story when these fatal flaws become obstacles in your hero or heroine's path, preventing them from succeeding. Your characters will have to overcome their own personal flaws in order to achieve their main goal.
Choosing the Right Flaws
In order to choose the right flaws for your characters and their story, you need to know them intimately. For the most part, writing the first draft of a story is an act of discovery. Whether you outline first then write, or make up the outline as you go, (the age old pantsers vs plotters conundrum, my friends, which is another blog post!), you may not immediately have a good idea of what flaw matches up with who -- especially if you're working with multiple points of view.
But sticking any old flaw on whichever character happens to take your fancy is not the way to go about assigning a tragic flaw. Think about your character's personality, their strengths and weaknesses. The right flaw not only enhances your perfectly imperfect hero, but the story, providing internal and external conflict as a result. Play with different combinations, see how they pan out. You may find that assigning the right flaw to your character unlocks a piece of the plot you didn't even know was missing.
Having imperfect characters with a clear weakness and blind spot also helps your readers identify with them. Think about it -- no one is perfect. Creating the a beautiful, brave hero to fearlessly jump in and save the day in every scenario may look and feel great your head, but why would we cheer him on when we know he can't fail? How can we relate to a character that seems to be perfect in every way? We as human beings don't know how to relate to perfection because we're not perfect. But failure is something that we can all relate to.
Flaws are vital part of any vivid character. They bring us closer to them and allow us to relate, or even sympathise, with that character. Fatal flaws are essential to plot, as well as character. They provide obstacles for our characters to overcome, or not, in order to reach their main goal. They also provide many internal and external conflict opportunities that enhance the overall reading experience.
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