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Focusing Flaws

18 Feb

This is pretty much a continuation of what I was talking about a few days ago.

 

1) The severity of a flaw plays a part in how it affects things. QUICK! Is your character an occasional nose-picker, a nervous nose-picker, a regular nose-picker, or a chronic nose-picker?

…Alright, I know, disgusting example, but it serves its purpose. The life of somehow who occasionally picks their nose is going to be very different than that which the chronic nose-picker lives – and a nervous nose-picker is going to have plot related problems when that shows up. Severity of a flaw has repercussions on characterisation and plot and is something an author should consider when they are making note of their characters’ flaws. If you’re writing, say, a confrontation between two characters and a flaw for one is “won’t admit when they’re wrong” it is going to make a huge difference if that’s “really hates admitting they’re wrong and tries to avoid it” or “refuses to accept that they are wrong and places blame only on the other party no matter what”. The one might cave in from sufficient care bear stare. The other is never going to change because they won’t admit there’s a problem with their behaviour – even when they’re hurting their loved ones – and those around them will just have to come up with ways to cope with that particular brand of arseholery.

 

2) Virtues and Flaws are not necessarily separate things. The concept that flaws can be virtues and virtues can be flaws is often toted about as helpful information. Strangely, however, very few authors are willing to apply that fact. When was the last time you read a story which showed a character choosing Selfishness and not being evil? Even if it was for something like their safety or mental health? Or who was willing to end a relationship purely because they wanted to end it instead of feeling as if they are obliged to be miserable in order to be kind to someone else? A lot of people in reality push themselves into unhealthy and even abusive circumstances, or to stay in them, because they’ve learned from fiction that it is never ever acceptable to be selfish or unkind – and so merely serve to facilitate other people’s selfishness and unkindness. Someone who is kind is both good to others and easily abused. Someone who is rude is an arse in some circumstances, but in others is the person most likely to get what they want out of life and they are the person most likely to take someone to task who really isn’t going to get their head out of their arse any other way. The key with flaws and virtues is to know whether they are positive or negative in the specific circumstance they are appearing in. This means that the flaw/virtue should turn up on multiple occasions in the story – sometimes positive, sometimes negative, and sometimes neutral.

 

3) Flaws relate to each other within a person. This is another thing which seems obvious, to me at least, but crops up all the time in both original and fan fiction. All too often when authors do give their characters flaws they fail to consider how those flaws interact together in the character. As a result you get characters that are incapable of admitting that they’re wrong in some chapters and hypocritical in others, but who never combine the two – whereas a real person with both of those faults will inevitably do their best to avoid ever having been wrong by insisting that the right answer was what they were saying all the time, even when up until that point they were vocal about the opposite being “right”. Similarly, you find characters that are indecisive acting the same way regardless of whether they are also lazy (in which case they should just not be bothered with the effort of making choices) or suffering from social anxiety (in which case they should be unwilling to make decisions only when those decisions mean they have to be afraid that either way they’ll upset someone). A person’s flaws should always be part of the person, rather than isolated issues attached to them, and should interact with every other part of their nature – including other flaws.

 

4) Flaws interact with other people’s flaws. When was the last time you saw a fight in reality which was all one person’s fault and not at all made worse by the other person? What about the last time you saw a fight in fiction which WASN’T all one person’s fault? In an alarming number of stories – fanfics, amateur original, and professional – characters’ flaws appear to be on some sort of roster (presumably run by some sort of flaws’ workers union). This chapter the hero’s quick temper will show its face, while no one else’s flaws react, and learn its lesson – then, next chapter the sidekick’s impulsiveness and lack of self-confidence will get their turn, even though they really should have turned up earlier; when the hero went off at the sidekick for no damn reason (that flaws’ workers union must have incredible dental to get away with nonsense like that).

At a guess I’d say the problem probably comes from authors focusing too much on the flaw which triggers the plot point or fight and thereby unwittingly treating it as the exclusive flaw in play at the time, rather than merely the most prominent. Whatever the reason, a bit more awareness of the fact that a realistic character’s flaws should be knocking into other realistic characters’ flaws (and then those into yet other flaws from the original and more characters) like pool balls on the first or second shot of the game, rather than floating about vaguely in their own self-contained bubbles of isolation, would be appreciated.

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Posted by on February 18, 2016 in On Writing

 

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