Character Flaws: Create Depth and Drive the Plot | Barbara Vance | Skillshare

Character Flaws: Create Depth and Drive the Plot

Barbara Vance, Author, Illustrator

Character Flaws: Create Depth and Drive the Plot

Barbara Vance, Author, Illustrator

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14 Lessons (1h 17m)
    • 1. Introduction

      3:57
    • 2. Flaws vs Weaknesses

      5:57
    • 3. How Flaws Serve the Story

      3:04
    • 4. Types of Flaws

      6:58
    • 5. Plot-Driving Flaws

      5:58
    • 6. Beliefs Drive Flaws Part 1

      10:12
    • 7. Beliefs and Flaws Part Two

      4:41
    • 8. Beliefs and Values

      6:12
    • 9. The Upside of the Flaw

      6:12
    • 10. Characters Without Flaws

      3:26
    • 11. Best Practices

      9:06
    • 12. Literary Examples

      7:42
    • 13. Recap of Main Ideas

      2:12
    • 14. Class Project

      1:50
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About This Class

Character Flaws Course Description

 

Flaws are one of the most important characteristics we consider when designing a character. This is because they are intimately connected to the plot and the goals of the story. This course is designed to help you avoid major pitfalls that result in weak characters whose traits do not push the narrative forward and whose behaviors lack consistency and resonance.

 

We will address:

 

  1. The difference between character flaws and weaknesses, and how to balance these things when developing your character
  2. The importance of character flaws and weaknesses as they relate to your plot, the character’s relationship to the reader, and the character’s relationship to other characters
  3. Types of flaws your character might possess and how each of these types affects the story you tell
  4. Making sure your flaws are strategic so that you maximize the plot as well as the reader’s investment in the story and the character
  5. Understanding how flaws affect both the surface, action-based story you are telling as well as the emotional understory that the whole novel is about
  6. Creating characters whose actions are consistent and meaningful by Relating flawed actions back to the character’s underlying beliefs
  7. Questions to help you flesh your character out
  8. What to do when your character has no clearly identifiable flaws—and you like it that way

If you have not watched my course on crafting a character profile, I recommend it as a sister course to this one!

Meet Your Teacher

Teacher Profile Image

Barbara Vance

Author, Illustrator

Teacher

 

Barbara Vance is an author, illustrator and educator. She has a PhD in Narrative and Media, has taught storytelling and media production at several universities, and has spoken internationally on the power of storytelling and poetry. Barbara’s YouTube channel focuses on illustration and creative writing.

Her poetry collection, Suzie Bitner Was Afraid of the Drain, which she wrote and illustrated, is a Moonbeam Children’s Book winner, an Indie Book Award winner, and was twice a finalist for the Bluebonnet Award. Its poems are frequently used in school curricula around the world.

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Transcripts

1. Introduction: Hi everyone, and welcome to this course on developing your characters. Specifically, how do we develop the flaws that go in our characters? When we're working on developing a character, it's often very easy to focus on the good things about that character. The things we love about them, that make us want to write about them in the first place. But the truth is, that a character's flaws are one of the most important things you will decide about that character. This is because, the flaws, when written properly, are directly related to the plot itself. To the problem of the plot. The stories are made up of two kinds of action. They've made up the action we see, the events themselves taking place, but they're also made of an under story. That's all about the internal changes happening to your character. Which means that the person your character is in the beginning of the story, needs to be different than the person who your character is at the end of the story. The change that happens from beginning to end, is all related to the character flaws. This course is designed to help you think about your story, and think about who your character is, who you want your character to be, so that you develop the flaws that deeply connect your character to the plot. Making your readers all the more engaged, both the story and character. We will be looking at numerous things in this course. The difference between character flaws, and character weaknesses, and how to balance these things when developing your character. We will also be looking at the importance of character flaws and weaknesses as they relate to your plot. The character's relationship to the reader, and the character's relationship to other characters. Third, we will look at the types of flaws your character might possess, and how each of these types affects the story you tell. We want to make sure your flaws are strategic, so you maximize the plot, as well as the readers investment in the story and the character. This course is also designed to help you understand how flaws affect both the surface action-based story you're telling, as well as the emotional under story, the whole novel is about. We will look at creating characters whose actions are consistent and meaningful, by related slowed actions, back to underline beliefs. Because as we shall see, a character's beliefs help drive those flaws. We will look at specific questions to help you flush your character out, as well as what to do when your character has clearly no identifiable flaws, and you like it that way. You don't really want your character to have flaws. We're going to look at all of these things. In addition to this, we will look at numerous literary and hypothetical examples, so that you really get a handle on what this means, when it actually is brought to bare in a novel. My name is [inaudible]. I am a teacher and an educator of creative variety, and create content development. Before we jump into the class, I would encourage you, to please head over to my website, and sign up for my mailing list. That mailing list is the best way to keep in touch with me. It will also open up for you, special teaching opportunities that are not available anywhere else. I will be offering some very special classes, and teaching opportunities to people who have signed up for our mailing list. Please go do that. It would only take a moment. Thank you so much. Also, please do leave a review at the end of the course. It's tremendously helpful for me, and for your peers. I would hope that you could take a moment and do that. All of that being said, let's jump into talking about character flaws, and how they work with plots. 2. Flaws vs Weaknesses: Developing character flaws is more complex than people realize. If you can get your arms around developing character flaws then you can handle character strengths. We want to begin by defining the difference between flaws and weaknesses. Please don't get too hung up on terminologies here, a flaw is a trait internal to the character that gets in her way and keeps her from achieving her goal. It is clearly a troublesome trait and she needs to actually improve it over the course of the narrative. This is different than a weakness. A weakness, on the other hand, is a vulnerability. It's something that can be exploited but it's not necessarily a bad thing in and of itself. It doesn't necessarily get in the way of the character's goals in the story. Let's look at some examples. My flaw might be that I have a short temper. My weakness might be that I like sweets a bit too much. You could have a story about a short-tempered woman who's bad behavior, gets her fired from her job and dumped by boyfriend. Those two events lead her down the road to the eventual recognition that she has to fix said flaw, a bad temper. She could happen to eat a lot of sweets, which is a weakness, but it's not necessarily influencing those major plot points and plot problems that you have. Let's look at another example. My flaw might be that I am greedy and miserly, while my weakness might be that I think kittens are adorable and I really, really want one. Now, do you see how the kitten example is not necessarily a flaw? It's actually not even necessarily a bad thing. You can like kittens and be totally weak for kittens and have it not actually manifests itself in some bad way in your life. But the weakness of kittens could matter. If, for example, your character is asked to deliver some surreptitious document that she suspects is related to illegal activity to a gentlemen at 23rd and 10 34th Street, and she's told that if she does deliver said suspicious package, then she can have her choice of Mrs. Hansen's litter of kittens. In that situation a not normally bad weakness, loving kittens, is being exploited. You can have a weakness that does influence the plot. A weakness can also be something a character does not have control over, like being blind or having a weak immune system. Now, something we want to watch out for. One mistake I see writers make some times is that rather than giving their character a flaw, they just give her a number of weaknesses thinking that that will suffice because they loved the character so much. They just don't want to give them a flaw. But what you'll see is that we want your character to struggle within herself and need to improve. In stories, this development plays out because the character flaw is related to the plot in a direct way. More on this later. The point is that too many weaknesses make your character more of a pathetic figure rather than someone we relate to and champion. See, you want to be very careful about just piling weaknesses on. You really want to take time to develop some strong actual flaws, then if you want to have some weaknesses, fine. Let's look at an example from literature. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn, a young boy, is the protagonist. He is a homeless boy, his mother dead, his father abandoned him and he's being raised by his aunt. Huck is an adventurous soul who really pushes back on his aunt's attempts to civilize him. This makes him a splendidly fun character. It is this adventurous spirit that sets him off on the journey of the novel. But Huck is not without flaws. Among them being is inability to appreciate the gravity of others difficult situations. While the plot itself is focused on Huck helping his friend Jim, who's a runaway slave, to freedom, we more than once see that there is a sense in which for Huck, this is a fun adventure. It's not this life threatening situation that it actually is for Jim. For Huck the trip down the river that they're on is an excursion and he doesn't appreciate what it really means to Jim. This lack of situational awareness extends to Huck's racial prejudices, which he is unaware that he has. These traits we've just discussed manifest themselves more as flaws in the novel because they heavily influenced the plot and thus Huck's own character development. Time and again in the story, these characteristics rear their heads and it is these that Huck ultimately comes to terms with. Now Huck has other less admirable characteristics. His social life take gets him into funny and awkward circumstances that makes for entertaining scenes. Yes, it influences the plot in it's on way, but the way this characteristic functions, it is more of a weakness because it doesn't really prohibit Huck from achieving his mission, nor is it remedied by the end of the story. This is not true of his racism or of his insensitivity, both of which do conflict with his goal to set Jim free, as well as the story's goal of Huck developing as a character. 3. How Flaws Serve the Story: Flaws and weaknesses are important in character development for multiple reasons. As you might expect, they make a character relatable. While there are certain stories in which characters seem more or less perfect, and I can love some of these. These are often not characters we can relate to as readers for the simple fact that we're all flawed. This does not mean that a more or less perfect character is unlikable, but in most cases you will want to create characters who have deficiencies. Flaws add depth to a character. They give her something to struggle with, which brings us to the secondary reason that flaws matter. Character flaws can also help develop the plot and add conflict and drama. If your protagonist has no flaws then the bad things that happen can only happen to her and she will only be a product of her circumstances. The novel becomes one-sided because she's never responsible for any of the bad things that occur. For flaw to really matter in a story, it needs to create problems for the character. A waitress's sharp tongue might get her fired. A young boys pride gets him sent to detention. You want a character that doesn't just have bad things happening to her or happening to him. You want a character who, by virtue of flaws and bad decisions is actually influencing the plot. One side note on relatability. Flaws can also push a reader away from a character, which you also want to avoid. Generally, flawed characters are off-putting, either because we never see any of the ramifications for their bad behavior, so they can be cruel and never have her come up heads, in which case we resent them, or the character does not have any positive traits we can also sympathize with. True, we are all flawed, but if your reader isn't a patient person and cannot relate to an impatient character, then she might not connect over that shared flaw in which case, she needs to see redeemable qualities near characters as well. Point being that you want to think of your character holistically considering flaws, weaknesses, strengths, and how readers might receive these things. As we proceed through this part of the course, please keep in mind that as a writer, you want to think of all the ways a flaw or strength, value, desire seeps into a character's life. Your traits will not seem real if a character's obsessiveness only affects how she keeps things and doesn't touch her work or her love life. Personality traits affect most facets of life and you will want to respect that as a writer. 4. Types of Flaws: Let's look at some of the types of flaws your character can have. There are many ways a person can be flawed which is unfortunate for life, but is really great when you want to tell an interesting story. For the purposes of this class, we're not going to go over every possible failing your character can have. What I would like to do is to go over some overarching categories of flaws that serve as umbrellas to most of the traits that we might choose. Then we'll have a look at some specific examples. The first type of flaws that we could look at a Personality-based, often Emotional Flaws. These are traits like being controlling, arrogant, too flirtatious, or highly gullible. In general, most character flaws fit under this category. Most people have ways of just behaving that are not right, whether they know it or not. Although most of the time I have to say that there's somewhat aware of it usually. Examples of this would include Harry Potter's arrogance as he grows older. You also can make a Toy Story's Woody needing to be the favorite toy, or Jay Gatsby's obsession with Daisy, under their example would be Scarlett O'Hara is willingness tease people, and then cast them aside when she's done with them. In each of these examples, the flaws describes a direct hindrance to the character in a way that affects the overarching plot directly. The next type of flaw that you could have would be Ideological or Belief Based Flaws. An ideology is a set of beliefs or ideals, generally, they're often related to politics, the economy or society. A political ideology would be something like socialism or liberalism. A cultural or social ideology would be feminism, racism, anti-intellectualism. Now an ideology can be a flaw in a number of ways. One is when negatively relates to the plot, or possibly when it is taken to an extreme. One thing to note, flaws do not necessarily have to be something that the reader is always the one who identifies. It can also be something that the characters identify in one another. For example, if your story is about two people who fall in love and one runs a large oil company while the other one leads an environmental organization, then these two ideologies are flaws to either the characters or oil man will see this woman's pro-Earth zest as a flaw, and she will see his desire to drill oil as one as well. In the case of this made-up story, if the plot is about their struggle to have a relationship, then these ideals are getting in the way of that. Therefore, in that case, they're categorized as flaws. Now an ideology can also be seen as a flaw if the reader zone background and beliefs do not coincide with the characters. If for example, a character is a Nazi in 1940s Germany, that character will be seen as flawed. When it comes to situations like this, as an author you will need to do a lot of extra legwork to make this character relatable and sympathetic. If that's even an emotion you want your readers to have about. This is because readers might feel very strongly about their opposing ideals, so strongly that nothing will overcome them and they will not connect with your character. If your intent is to create a character who you really think that that character's ideologies are going to conflict with the readers, but you want your reader to connect that character, you're really going to have to do a lot of extra legwork to make that happen. An ideology can also be taken as a flaw if it's taken to an extreme. Visit Sandra Bullock movie called Two Weeks Notice and that's an example of this. In the film book portrays a zealous environmental lawyer whose energy for her cause keeps her from having well-rounded perspective as she might otherwise have and therefore, the way that plot is that because of that she has a smaller live. That would be an example where ideologies taken too far. Other examples of ideological flaws would include things like Charles Dickens' Miss Havisham, she's a total man hater and this unwillingness to let go of the past really gets in her way. Harper Lee's character Bob Ewell and his deep-seated racism, and Casablanca is Nazi Major Heinrich Strasser, all of these would fall into that category. Now none of these three examples are major characters. You see that in their respective stories, only Miss Havisham actually changes from beginning to end. A character, particularly as supporting one or an antagonist, may not change the flaw. However, when it comes to stories that focus on ideological flaws in main characters, often the plot is dedicated to making that character better appreciate perspectives and circumstances of those he just not associate with. The next category of flaws that we could look at are Behavioral Flaws. Behavioral flaws or non personality-based traits, generally having to do with how they function in the world. They're generally maladaptive and impede the character in some way. These would include things like messiness, or being illiterate, or being clumsy. These are lighter weight flaws that might very well make it into your story, but there are not linchpin flaws that the plot will center around. Mostly because these traits often sit on the surface and don't require the character to undergo any deep or psychological or ideological change. You could almost say that they're very close if not hard to distinguish from weaknesses. An example of this would be high Mayan hyper-focus on her grades, and Harry Potter. That's not this hideous flaw she has to get over, but it is a weakness to her in some ways because it may have its own friendships, makes her seem stuck up. That's one way you could say it's a weakness, but it's also just a behavioral thing. If you find your character has a lot of behavioral flaws, that is a signal to check and see if you are actually using them as weaknesses. Remember, a flaw impedes a character from succeeding at her goal. 5. Plot-Driving Flaws: Now, before you decide on which flaw you want your character to have, it is important to remember that you are not just picking any flaw. You need to have a strategic reason for the flaw you choose. One of the mistakes that writers often make when assigning flaws and weaknesses to a character, is that they think that if they just tack a flaw onto the protagonist, then they can make her really great in most other ways. In other words, they treat flaws and weaknesses like a balancing act. You want a really smart, precocious protagonist, fine, but let's just give her a short temper. This, however, is not a good plot-focused way to develop a character. We want to give our character strategic flaws. How do you choose the right ones? In all likelihood, your character will have more than one flaw. But generally, there is one flaw that is "the flaw", the main one that she will struggle with and need to overcome. It will be a personality defect of some kind, as opposed to a defect she has no control over, like a scar. As we mentioned earlier, this flaw in many cases should, one, impede her in whatever it is she is trying to achieve or deal with, and two, deepen her character, tell us more about her, make her more real. It needs to do those two things, which means that if you want strategic, memorable characters, then you need to have a sense of your story and the internal journey your character is going on. How is she different from the start of the story and the end? What has she learned? How has she grown? You want to think about the emotional and psychological journey your character is going on. In all of the examples we have looked at thus far, the flaws characters possess not only get in the way of their best interests, but they also deepen our understanding of that character. What you will find is that this internal journey is directly related to the character's values, and therefore her wants, needs, and goals, which brings us to a critical question you need to ask. What is the story you are trying to tell? Good plots generally have two sets of action, and therefore change happening at the same time. These two lines of development intimately influence one another. There is what I'm going to call the "surface story", which is what the characters are physically doing. Frodo is taking the ring to Mordor. Harry Potter is fighting against Voldemort. Jane Eyre is making her way in the world as a governess. But then, there is the action, the development happening below the surface of the story. It is the "under story". Now in film-making, these terms are generally called the plot and the story. In literature, story means something different. So don't get bogged down with terms. Just know, that there is a main surface story, aka plot, that is about the events happening, that we're watching. Then there is the under story, that is what the events are really about. The under story drives the surface story. Let's look at an example. In the film "Casablanca", the surface story is that Rick is a once freedom fighter, now nightclub owner, who has renounced the cause and totally tried to bury his past, but his past resurfaces when his old love walks back into his life having abruptly left him. What we're watching is, we follow Rick and his old love, Ilsa, as they reconcile, rekindle their relationship, and then they're forced to eventually choose between each other and this freedom fighting cause. So Rick's flaws in that film are that he is cynical and selfish. He has this famous quote, "I stick my neck out for nobody". But the under story is about a cynical man who learns to look out for others, and more or less rejoin society. The under story follows Rick, a cynical man, through his rekindled relationship with Ilsa, and eventually, to becoming a Nazi fighter and someone who cares about the fate of others than himself. In most character-focused stories, the under story is the one you are trying to tell. The surface story is how you get your protagonist from point A to point B of the under story. Do you see how the under story is connected to the protagonist's flaws? So that as we proceed through the action, Rick amends his flaws and ends up a better person. The surface story is the avenue by which the under story comes to completion. If we had just randomly assigned flaws, could we have had the same story? Not really. You still could have had a surface story, but if you made Rick's flaw that he was lazy, then the reader's going to want to see how that laziness affects the story. What we do see is that he is selfish and cynical, those negative traits drive the conflict. So you need to think about your character flaws in relation to your story. 6. Beliefs Drive Flaws Part 1: When we consider that a novel or film has a surface plot and an under-story. That under-story is based on a change the character goes through. Then we need to examine that character's beliefs just as you cannot choose strategic traits until you understand the story you are trying to tell, so too, you cannot understand the story you are trying to tell until you get a handle on the character changes that are going to happen. Character change means a change in beliefs. Plot means change. If you're writing a character centric book and that change will center on, go figure a character's internal change. When we look at plots in which a character needs to change, what we find is that there is a flawed belief that must be corrected. If your character is going to improve in some way, then something needs to be lacking. Now, you could have a perfectly great character who is poor, meets a handsome prince, marries him, and now has left insecurity. Character change? Not really, but fun fairy tale. Do you need a character belief to change? No. But in general, you will find that novels often have characters with incorrect or amoral beliefs that are driving them to their flawed behavior. It is important to remember that a character's flawed actions are always based on a belief. A character believes certain things to be true, which makes her act a certain way. When we are investigating what flaws we want her to have, we must also ask the all important question. What does my character believe that makes her this way? For our purposes here, we're going to focus on flawed actions and beliefs. But this discussion of character beliefs extends to the character as a whole. When we look at why a character behaves a certain way, it is helpful to consider the reason behind the flaw and or belief behind the flaw. Sometimes these two are intimately tied together. Let's look at each. The reason behind a flaw is often some event based occurrence in the character's paths that makes him or her feel a certain way or believe a certain thing. Hence, how the flaw reason is tied to the underlying belief. Reasons could be an unfortunate past event. It could be that the character has been conditioned to behave a certain way. A parent who is very demanding, for example, might engender rebelliousness in his child. The belief behind a flaw is, as mentioned, some outlook or philosophy that a character either knowingly or unknowingly believes in, that drives him to act a certain way. You don't always have to give your underlying beliefs a reason. A lot of people are unaware of why they feel certain ways and certainly you don't owe your readers all of that information. It can just be something that's helpful for you as a writer to know those things and brainstorm those things for yourself because it can just help you write your story and help you understand your character better. But more often than not, if you have a reason, it should have a belief that follows from it. Mary might be an absolute perfectionist to an unhealthy degree and the reason for that might be that she never had a strong relationship with either of her parents and she therefore turned into trying to control things in her life and make things as totally impressive as possible. The underlying belief could be that she can make her life orderly enough, her parents will finally appreciate her. Or she could have an underlying belief that she is in control of her life because everything around her is just so, when in reality what she has no control because she's a slave to her perfectionism. Did you see how there she's believing, "I believe that if everything's in order, my parents will love me." That's her belief. The reason for that belief is because of how she was raised. Another example could be Dave, who was overly aggressive and dominating in is relationships and will not listen or respect the women he is with, let's say in this case, we don't give a reason just a belief. We could say that Dave believes letting someone else be right, means he no longer has power or he is weak. He believes that strength means being the one who is right, who makes the decisions, and who has the last word. His perception of what it means to be strong is awry. Do you see how the belief drives the flaw? His flaw is how badly he treats these women. But his belief why he treats them that way is because he believes something about himself and his own worth. The truth is that flaws are often tied to our fears. In the cases we just cited, Mary is a perfectionist because she fears lack of love. Dave is aggressive, because he fears lack of power. Really take the time to investigate the flaws that you come up with and go down this path. What's my flaw? Why does my character believe what he or she believes that makes them behave that way? What's the reason that they even have that belief? Do you see how it's a little train of ideas that you have to investigate? If you're struggling to develop a character's beliefs, here are some questions you can ask to help your character become fleshed out. One is, what misconception does your character have that makes him or her behave this way? What is he lacking mentally, emotionally, or spiritually as a result of this? How is that interior lie that he's telling reflected in the character's actions in exterior worlds. Is the lie making his life miserable when the story opens? If so, how like, what is the condition of the character when the story begins? If he is not and he's okay, then will the inciting incident or first few plot points begin to make him realize that there is an issue? Very important thing to note. Beliefs do not have to be logical. They are just with the character believes. Do not feel like as a writer, everything you come up with has to have some brilliant logic to it, it doesn't. People are logical all the time because very often we're driven by our emotions and so we behave in illogical ways. This is just human nature. Honestly, if you write a story where you have all these specific explicit answers and everything is so tight, it can get to a point where it almost doesn't feel real, so you want to be very careful about that. Now, couldn't you just write a perfectionist woman or a domineering man throughout your novel without having a belief? Yes. But if you know the belief, that will probably change how you write the flaw, if Mary's just a perfectionist, you can show that in a lot of different ways without dealing with her relationship to her parents. But if this flaw is to do with her parents, now, you will likely bring that dynamic into your story. Because to overcome her perfectionism, she has to come to terms with her underlying belief. You can say I have a flaw and there are all these different ways I can demonstrate it being manifested. You can't choose all of those, because just like any story, you're choosing a few selected scenes to tell your story. This many things happened, but you can only tell me this many. There are lots of ways you can show her perfectionism. If the story you want to tell is about her relationship to her parents, you will bring that perfectionism in, in a way that relates to her parents and to that relationship. In other words, really knowing underlying beliefs chooses the actual plot events that you show your readers. Most people do not change a habit or a bad behavior simply by forcing themselves not to do it. They change because they have a change of heart or perspective, which means, to deal with a maladaptive behavior, we must deal with the problematic underlying issue. This problematic underlying issue is what drives the under-story. While the behavior it manifests is what we see on the surface story, which brings us back to strategic flaws that are related to the plot. If you connect your main thought to the main plot, then as the character proceeds through the surface events of your story, the underlying story happening below the surface is developing in tandem. 7. Beliefs and Flaws Part Two: In Jane Austen's, Emma. Emma is a self-righteous, snobby, rather insensitive young woman who likes to have her own way. The surface action of the plot in that book is her attempt to get Harriet married. When her attempts result in a worse situation for Harriet, Emma realizes she's meddled where she ought not, behaved cruelly and that feels remorse lesson learned. Now, this is a total oversimplification of the story that has numerous of the plot strands. Read the book, it's great. But under the surface of this, Emma is a story about a young woman who must learn what it is to be charitable and kind as well as learning that social status is not an indicator of worth. Emma is a story about what makes a person worthy and how to treat them. Thus, the flaw is her insensitivity and her snobbishness. The belief is that people of a certain class are more worthy and hence the right sutures for Harriet and the right people to associate with. As Emma proceeds through the story events, she learns the error of her ways. The flaw ties to the belief, which is the understory that drives events in this surface story. I'm going to say that one more time, the flaw that your character has ties to a belief that they have and that belief is part of the understory that drives the events in the surface story. The flaw manifests itself out in the surface story, but it's driven by this belief that is in the understory. Now, this does not mean that you have to necessarily show the reason behind a character flaw. Sometimes you will want to, other times not. Sometimes keeping the past in mystery, makes for more training reading. You really do not have to tell me every single thing about your character. Not only is it too much information and bogs a story down but it really can. A little bit of mystery is a good thing. Mystery can be interesting. But it can be worth your while to at least think about why a character has certain flaws in addition to making the character consistent and driving the plot. This awareness of the flaw and the investigation you do has another benefit. Knowing the reason behind a flaw gives the reader a better opportunity to judge the character based on that flaw. If we understand that you are very angry hero, actually had an abusive childhood, we will not necessarily excuse the anger but we might be more understanding of it. We see the hero as more three dimensional. Now, you might not want your readers to sympathize with a character, in which case, don't do that. Leave the reason out and that's fine. But just providing that reason can again, give us that three-dimensionality and just help us to connect with the character a bit more. It's just often like in life, right? I mean, somebody does something and you don't like it or you're like, ''Well, I don't like the way they treated me,'' or something like that. But then you learn that she had a really bad day or that a dog just died or something like that and you excuse the behavior. But it's the same idea, so if you have a character with these flaws, but you give me some backstory or some reason that that character is that way, I'll do the same thing. It's just another way to connect with the character on a more intimate level. Keep in mind that we're talking about main characters. Minor characters in particular don't necessarily need a reason. Don't feel you have to give every single character in your story a flaw and a belief behind the flaw and a reason behind the belief because you can just go nuts. You really don't need to do that. Truly again, there are a lot of books that don't give you any detail like I'm talking about and they're fabulous stories. These are guidelines. These are not rules. They are guidelines. 8. Beliefs and Values: Make sure you keep in mind that a character's beliefs are tied to their values. Emma believes that certain people are more worthy but she believes this because this is front of mind for her, because she values social status and money. She also values friendship and love and unfortunately for her, she thinks that she's acting out of friendship to force Harriet out of one relationship and into another that's not good for her, but Emma wants Harriet to be happily married because she believes several things. She believes that she herself is a woman of means and social status. She believes she is a good friend and that good friends help friends. She also believes marriage to the right man will make a woman happy. That the right man is someone of means and social status. That Harriet is her friend and is unmarried and Harriet will therefore be happy when she is married to a man of means and social status. Therefore, as a woman of social status and as a friend to Harriet, she, Emma, must help Harriet obtain a marriage to a man of means and social status. All of this is predicated on the values of friendship, marriage, money and status. The values undergo the whole sequence of Emma's logic. However wrong it may be, most people have a logical reason for the things that they do and that logic is tied to values and beliefs. Now the above logical progression is not interesting if it is true, it is only when there are issues that the reader starts to be engaged. We need to take our characters' values and beliefs and ask where they come in conflict with the story we are trying to tell. This is where we are able to prescribe a flow, it intimately connects the character to the plot. Do you see how when we flush out all of these things it becomes apparent on its own? I mean, Emma might have had other flaws, but her core flaw is her snobbishness because she values her society and considers herself a part of it. Now, secondary flaw is her sense that she knows best and can therefore make decisions for other people that they somehow can't make for themselves. But in this situation, Emma's flaws will not be corrected until she changes both her values and her beliefs. She must learn that, one, money and status are not everything, that's a value change. Two, she does not know best, that's a belief change. Do you see how there is both a value change and a belief change that need to occur at the level of the under story and that when these things change the flaws would be corrected? It isn't enough just for Emma to come to terms with the idea that money and status aren't everything, the other side of that has to be her belief that she is in a certain position and she knows better. If you just corrected the one and said, well, now she doesn't think that status and money are everything, but she's kept her belief that she knows best, you haven't fixed things. If you take away the belief that she knows best, but you leave the idea that status and money are everything, you haven't corrected everything, you need to correct both the value and the belief. Now, how does this flaw tie in with wants and needs? Emma wants Harriet to marry a man of means. She wants this because, one, she thinks of herself as a good friend. Two, she thinks of herself as wealthy. Three, primarily, helping Harriet makes her feel good about herself. She looks down on Harriet and facilitating something she does not think Harriet could obtain on her own, aka, getting married to a good man, affirms in Emma's mind her own social status and kind personality. What Emma needs is to learn that Harriet could be happily unmarried. She also needs to learn that wealth and status are not everything, and that Emma herself needs to mind her own business. Finally, Emma has to learn that, hey, she's been a snob. Now, notice how we have external wants that are action driven, like marrying off Harriet and we have internal wants, feeling good about herself. Do you see how Emma's flaws are directly related to her wants and her needs? What she wants is not correct, and she therefore exhibits improper beliefs and behavior that cannot be corrected unless she receives what she needs, at which point the flaw is erased or at least improved. Again, values and beliefs drive wants and these things can manifest themselves in flaws that may and often do conflict with those meanings. That's a lot, I know, but there is one more step in considering flaws that we have to look at. 9. The Upside of the Flaw: Once we know a character's flaw, the beliefs that flaw is based on, and the story we are trying to tell, we are then finally ready to actually go back to the flaw itself and flush it out. This is what will make it deep and plot-forwarding. You want to give your character as much depth as possible. Tat means not treating her flaws in a simplistic manner, since her bad behavior is based on her beliefs and values. Then there are ways in which this flaw is working for her. She would not continue to behave this way if she was not getting something out of it and indeed there may actually be positive aspects to that flaw, which means we need to investigate the initial positive side of the flaw and see what that is so that we can understand the benefit the character gets from it and why she might not even realize that it's a problem in the first place. Let's go all the way back to Casablanca. Rick is cynical and he's selfish. How does this work for him? Remember that Rick had his heartbroken by Ilsa. Rick believes that people, even those closest to you, who you think should treat you the best, ultimately behave selfishly. That's why he withdraws emotionally, just pulls away from the world. His negativity and his lack of willingness to help people benefits him in the following ways. One, he won't risk getting a broken heart again because he isn't opening his heart up to anyone. Two, he is free to make business deals with people whose values, like Nazis, he does not agree with because he's no longer siding with anyone at all. He thinks all people are selfish and he can therefore make considerable amounts of money off of everyone. Three, because he has no personal ties of affection, more people trust him because they don't think he's siding with anyone so they all tell him their secrets. Four, he feels free in a way that he didn't before because he doesn't have personal emotional ties. These so-called positive results of his flaw are why he doesn't mind being this way, even though others tell him the negative aspects of his personality, he's fine with it. He has made this because this mal-adaptive behavior works for him, it serves him in these ways. They also make the flaw interesting and believable. If there's no upside to a flaw, then the reader's not going to understand why it's there. There's no upside and the character is not invested in staying that way nor does he have to struggle to change his ways. We're not going to believe a character that has this his horrible behavior that has bad ramifications for his life if we don't understand why the character's doing that. Like we're just watching a character behave badly, we're going to sit there and go, why is he doing that? We need to see what the character thinks he's getting out of it in some way. The possible exception to this would be addiction, in which the character feels totally trapped. The benefit, if you were going to say that there wasn't one, you could say was the high or the escape provided by the drug, the alcohol, etc, but in general, addiction is the only thing that I can really think of where that you might not actually have an upside. Let's look at this again in the example of Emma. As we've said, Emma is snobby and she's proud. She believes that status and money matter and that it is her duty to help other people because she has status and money. But these ill-advised behaviors in her benefit her. Because they one, make her feel good about herself. Two, they affirm her perception of herself. Three, they make her look good to some people. Emma's case is interesting because her flaws are veiled under this veneer of Duke goodness. Others around her, they do see her trying to help Harriet and they think well of her for it because they do not see the thoughts that are going on under the surface in her head. They don't perceive how Emma's kindness is actually more about herself that about Harriet. It's not until Emma has a rather public slip-up where her pride is actually on display that she starts to rethink her behavior and her attitude. But she is at heart a good person, which is why we like her as a reader and it's why many of the characters around her make allowances for her, I like choosing that example for that reason. Emma has to struggle against the upside of false perception of herself. She has to realize herself as far more flawed than she knows. The lesson in all of this is that you really want to take time to think about your flaws upside and how this manifests itself in your story. You want to always come back to the character's perception of things. Think about people in your own lives, who you really care about and then think about the things that you love about that person and the things you wish you could change about that person. What you will find is that very often, the things we love about a person are probably deeply connected to the things that we don't necessarily love about them. We might have someone who we think is just too nit-picky and such a perfectionist and it gets on our nerves, but at the same time they keep the house so clean and we love that. Most traits have a good and a bad, and it's when you explore a trait in that kind of in-depth way that makes things more interesting and deeper, and more nuanced. 10. Characters Without Flaws: One thing we need to address, what about stories with characters with no clearly identifiable flaws? While our discussion thus far has been about characters with identifiable flaws, it is important to remember that there are a lot of great books. Great books where the protagonist does not have a marked deficiency he or she is struggling against. Novels like the Little Princess or Treasure Island, which are two books I love. Both of these are gripping, wonderful works and in each of them, the protagonists does change albeit at varying levels, but the change that takes place is not one in which a flaw is slowly corrected through a series of events. In Little Princess, Sara Crewe is as lady like in the end as she is in the beginning. Likewise, Jim Hawkins in Treasure Island, he demonstrates bravery from the start of the story all the way through. But while these characters don't have a strong flaw per se, they are still lacking something. There's something they gain by going through the experiences they go through. In the case of Sara, this is a little girl who has up until she becomes impoverished orphan, lived a very privileged life. Her challenge through the story is, can she maintain her genteel behavior and her hopeful, generous personality when life is not going her way. We therefore see her challenge to fight against adverse circumstances to retain her dignity and personality. Treasure Island is also coming of age story in which Jim, he becomes more independent young man who learns more and more to think for himself and in general, he's a sadder but wiser character but he doesn't have a personality deficiency that he's trying to repair either. Both of these stories in which the protagonist lacks life experience and all of this is to say that it could be that your story does not focus on an inner personality-based need that we just have to correct for the protagonist to achieve his or her goals. Some novels delve deeper into characters psyche than others, and that's okay. Many plot based as opposed to say, character-centric books are this way and it's just fine. If you plan on writing a plot that falls into this category, it will benefit you to consider what the lack is, since there's no identifiable flaw. Again, it could be a lack of experience. It could be a lack of adversity and then having to practice good behavior you already had. But what does the lack? What is the deficiency? Some questions you can ask yourself about your character to determine a potential lack include things like, what does she learn? How does she grow? How did she change? 11. Best Practices: Now that we have covered what flaws are, why they matter, the flaw a character can have, and how to choose strategic plot focused flaws. Let's look at some best practices about incorporating them into your writing. First things first, remember that a character will not always see her flaws as a flaw. She may not even be aware of it at all and she might very well, if she is aware of it, have an excuse for being that way. We saw this in Casablanca. As we said, this lack of awareness can often be part of what makes a story interesting. Really take time to consider, I mean, if your character is aware of the flaw, is she trying to improve it? Does it bother her? Is she contend with it being not way? I mean, we do this with people in our lives like, why don't you want to improve? We think that all the time. Think about that with your characters, treat them like real people. Also along these lines, characters who are always right or in fact always wrong, tend to be pretty cardboard. If your characters perceptions of herself are always in accord with reality, then you've really created a situation that has less conflict. This includes the level to which she's aware of her flaw and the impact of her flaw on other people. A characters 100 percent successfully assessed herself will not register as honest. I don't know anyone who has fully objective opinion about themselves. It's not possible. The way we see the world is always colored by our desires, our background, our culture, etc. Yes, know yourself, but your character is was going to think certain things about herself that other people don't think, that the characters don't think, that the media doesn't think. I mean, I think everybody knows someone who said, "Well, I'm a very thoughtful person." We're like, we don't know. We do that, we think that, so let your characters, self-perceptions not always line up properly. It makes life very, very interesting. Also, while it is definitely interesting to consider contrasts between characters when assigning traits, do be careful about absolutes. What I mean by that is, unless you're going after serious allegory, writing someone who is stereo-typically and wholeheartedly cynical, for example and then having another character in the story who's nothing but completely suite and trusting so that you can have this contrast, that registers as false to the reader if those are main characters. Supporting characters are far more likely to seem somewhat under developed, the obvious reason that you're not going to give them the same amount of attention on that page but a stereotypical character should be a conscious choice if is the main character. It can be a fine choice. You just want to be aware that you're writing him or her that way and hopefully have a good reason for doing so. Also, ensure characters respond to each other's flaws realistically, part of what will bring a character to life is what happens around her, not just what she does. If your character is already sarcastic for example, we will appreciate that as much if we do not see how her sarcasm negatively affect her and the people she is around. Often a writer may focus on demonstrating that there protagonist to say selfish, and then go about writing scenes in which the selfishness plays out but then neglects to demonstrate the impact of that selfishness on the actual characters around her. What makes a character trait real, is not just the actions of that character, it is also the responses to those actions. This is why it is important to develop the characters around your protagonist. Don't have every character respond to your protagonist the same way. Maybe her sister both stand for our selfishness and erupts when it happens. Maybe her mother ignores her selfishness. Maybe her boyfriend is irritated. Just as the selfishness of your character will manifest itself in different ways, so too will people's responses to it. Speaking of variety and in knew ones, give time to think about the ways the flaw will manifests itself through your character throughout the story. You don't want to simply label a character's having a flaw and then let the reader see it in action and dialogue. Give the reader a variety of situations in which we can see the flaw enacted or appreciate the nuances of that flaw. We are selfish in different ways. We might be more selfish in one situation than another. We must be very selfish with our food, but not with our books. We might be selfish with some people and not with others. There are all ways that manifests itself as opposed to just being selfish across the board, which again makes your character cardboard. You want nuance to play in what you're doing in all the ways you can think of it. When you do this, you will find often that the character should make mistakes because of these flaws and that these mistakes should have consequences otherwise she doesn't learn. Make your flaws, make varied flaws, but then make your character make mistakes based on those flaws. When you do this, it's really best if the consequences of those flaws are not fleeting. For example, maybe Sarah lies and that's her flaw. She lied today when she stole his spiral notebook and his history notes because she didn't take notes herself and the test is coming up, she needed notes. Then she lies to her teachers so that she doesn't have to take the test. But she gets overwhelmed, she doesn't have time to read Dave's notes, so she then lies to the teacher so she doesn't have to take the test. She tells her teacher she's volunteering the animal shelter and so can she make up the test next week. Then she goes home, she spent the afternoon alone napping instead of taking a test, but then Dave is killed and no one sure who did it. But his best friend mentioned a later day perceived that seemed to upset him and maybe he journaled about to see the spiral and they should check that and Sarah has his spiral and to seem flipping through it by Candace. When the police asks Sarah where she was at 2:30 on the 26th, she cannot say the shelter because she was at home. No one can verify where she was and she's obviously a liar who didn't go to the shelter and stole a notebook because everyone knows Dave wouldn't share it and now Davis dead. Do you see how the flaw of being a liar as big consequences? You would think she would say no more lying. But will she? Because she does have a habit of lying and maybe she feels she needs to keep doing so to stay out of trouble. That she's actually not even important. In this situation, the flaw takes on a life of its own and drives the plot forward and become so interesting and meaty. Again, that's what we've been saying in this whole course, is that all this investigating or the decisions that you make about your flaw, look at characters believes, look at characters values, their wants, their needs. What's going on in the under-story? What's going on in the over-story? That's how you get something meaty like what we just talked about. That's how you get something. She lied but then she took a notebook and then she didn't use the notebook, but she went home. Now because she lied, does she keep lying? Does she not keep lying? She feels like she has to. There's so much drama there because you've investigated the flaw, and because you've really put the flaw at the center of the story. Finally, remember that while you may plan flaws in advance, especially if you're a discovery writer, more will reveal themselves as you write. Keep that openness. That's okay. The more you want to plan, plan. If you're more of a discovery writer and used to have a semblance of a flaw, that's okay also because that can just come out as you're actually writing. Having said that about flaws, let's look at some examples. 12. Literary Examples: Before we begin these analyses, just to note that the following contains plot spoilers. This is necessary if we're going to assess these books. But if you haven't read the sense and sensibility or Madame Bovary and you want to, and you're worried about plot spoilers, you might skip this section of the course. Let's start with the first example. Marianne Dashwood from Sense and Sensibility. Now, Jane Austen's Marianne Dashwood is one of those characters that is quite fleshed out, and she goes through a very traditional character change that we've been discussing. There's a sense in which she's a bit of a character of an overly emotional female. Especially a clue of a heroin comment to much of the fiction of Jane Austen's time. But she really does go through her own character development. When we look at her flaws, we see someone firmly committed to our idea of what love looks like and how romantic relationships should be. She has no trouble telling others, her sister, Eleanor, particular what she thinks even if it hurts them. She's essentially a constant overflow of emotions. What is ironic is that it is then she, who then falls for the shallow Willoughby, fostering a relationship that completely falls apart. It isn't until Willoughby deserts her that she then falls ill and is cared for by those she previously disdained. That she then realizes her pettiness and then it actually makes her more redeemable, romantic choice. So let's break this down. Maryanne values love. That she believes that love means an explosion of emotion. All this flowery language, this passion. That's what she believes love looks like. She values loves, she believes that it looks a certain way. She wants that love for herself. She wants this emotional, passionate relationship. But what she needs is someone who actually will treat her well, and what treating her well looks like might not be what she was thinking. Her flaw is that she's over emotional, shallow in character and too outspoken. So then we need to ask what is story we're trying to tell. Austin is telling a story about the dangers of over sensitivity. What she saw is very prevalent in other novels of the time. These were books that privileged the emotions of any rationalism. The surface story is Maryanne and Eleanor, their sisters, each in a complicated love situation and they're trying to sort it out. The understory is the change that each of those needs to go through. Maryanne's case, going from being this selfish girl who perceives love one way and it's very insensitive to other people's ideas of love. To someone who comports herself differently is more understanding of other people and has different expectations of love. Do you see how Maryanne's flaw in this situation is connected to the plot? Who Maryanne is intimately connected with the plots of a story, as well as Austin's underlying message. So that despite some of her unwise behavior, we do actually care about Maryanne. We feel sincere resolution at the end based on her change of character. Let's look at one other example. Madame Bovary. Specifically Emma Bovary. Part of what makes examination of Emma Bovary, so interesting is that she's truly not that likable. Even though we have access to many of her emotions and motivations, she is not written in a way that makes her relatable to the average reader. Although we might well be aware of some of the moral lessons the author is intimating to us through Emma's story. We just cannot seem to connect with her well, she's just an odious person. That's why they wrote in a very realistic style. If you just read the end of the novel to be faced with how unflinching that can be. He can write some really realistic descriptions of gruesome things. So this is an example of a story where the main character is not necessarily the villain because she is absolutely taken advantage of by other people. We would consider less likable than she. But it is also a story where the challenge is keeping the reader engaged and at least somewhat empathetic so that they finish this story and find it enjoyable. Part of the reason Flaubert gets away with having such an off-putting character as Emma is to give her husband, Charles, a fair amount of page space as well. He is by no means the main character, but he is strikingly important. We get to know him, his past, his feelings quite well. So that the novel, while it is Emma's story, it's Emma's story in many ways as it relates to Charles. So, brief overview. Madame Bovary actually begins with Charles, which signals to us his importance. We learn about his upbringing. He is considered not terribly bright and he becomes doctor. He's briefly married to a woman who unexpectedly dies, and he doesn't have much money. Well, he falls in love with Emma and the two marry, although she clearly does not love him. She grows quickly bored with the marriage because it doesn't live up to her romantic expectation. Long story short, due to a variety of events, she ends up having an affair and spending a tremendous amount of money to support a lavish lifestyle, eventually going into debt. All by the way, unbeknownst to Charles. Eventually unable to pay all of this back, she kills herself. I am totally leaving out a lot, but this is good enough for our purposes. In Emma's case, she values like Marianne Dashwood, she's got this romantic ideal of love. What that looks like. She also really does value beautiful things, expensive things. But her deep value, I think what Emma really wants us to be loved and admired. She values people admiring her, thinking very well of her. Her belief is that if she owned all of these things, and if she has a certain kind of man, then she is a certain kind of woman. She wants to believe herself to be a certain kind of woman who is valued and adored. She thinks that these other things will make her that. So she wants money, beautiful things and rich, handsome, wealthy, influential man to love her. What she needs is to realize that actually she has a really good man who does love her, and that there is no amount of wealth or beauty or affairs that will satisfy her. That these things are all shadows that she's chasing after that don't have anything really solid to them. 13. Recap of Main Ideas: We have said quite a lot about flaws. It is worth our while to recap so that we can go over everything that we've said. Let's go back over the main point of flaws. A flaw is a trait that is internal to the character, that gets in her way and keeps her from achieving her goal. A weakness, on the other hand, is a vulnerability, but may not be bad in and of itself. Flaws and weaknesses make characters relatable and advance the plot. There are numerous kinds of flaws, including personality, ideological, and behavioral. Remember to have a strategic reason for the flaw you choose. Don't just add a flaw willy-nilly, think about how it will impact the plot. To choose the best flaw, consider one that will: one, impede her goals for the story and two, develop her character and make her more real. Also, determining the story you are trying to tell will help you choose an appropriate flaw. Speaking to this, you want to consider the surface story and the understory and you want to connect to your flaw to the understory, for a deeper, plot-focused narrative. Don't neglect the surface story though. Think about what flaws would be interesting to watch played out. Also remember that character flaws are based on values, beliefs, wants, and needs. A character believes certain things to be true, which makes her act a certain way. Also consider the upside of the flaw. What does the character get out of behaving this way? Finally, that not all characters have an identifiable flaw. Some just have a lack of something. Could be money, power, the need to grow up. You can have a great story that does not have an identified character flaw. 14. Class Project: So there you have it. Those are my bits of advice on writing flaws into your characters to create strong connection with band between the characters, and your readers, as well as making sure that that flow helps drive the plot forward. I hope this has been helpful for you. I do have a worksheet for you to help you flush out these things for yourself. You will find that the questions there go right in line with the things that we have talked about in this class. I do hope you will take a look at it, and follow along. There are also some class notes, just a brief outline to help you out. So I hope that helps as well. Deepest thanks to everyone who has reviewed my classes, and offered kind words. I appreciate it so much. If you have not gone to my website, and signed up for my mailing list, I would ask that you take a moment and do that because I am going to begin offering courses, and a number of places you will not be able to find anywhere else, but my website. Signing up for that mailing list will allow you to get the news about those courses. I will be offering some special opportunities to students who do sign up for the mailing list. So please, do that. Also, if you do not mind leaving a review, it is a huge help to me, and I appreciate it a great deal that also helps you to appear in this community. I thank you so much for watching, and as always, I wish you the very best of luck with your writing. Bye.