Types Of Character Flaws
Part of character development relates to addressing a “fatal flaw”. Here are some common flaws found in modern movies according to scriptshadow.net.
Dealing with a character flaw through your story is called a transformation, change or an arc. It’s when your character starts in a negative place and finishes in a positive place.
Character flaws are more prominent in some genres than others. For example, you should always include a character flaw in a comedy. Our inability to overcome our flaws is essentially what leads to all the laughs in the genre. Our flaws are amplified when we see them in others.
Action movies, on the other hand, often have heroes who don’t change. The story moves too fast to explore the characters in a meaningful way. Thrillers are similar in that respect, although a good thriller will find a way to squeeze in a character flaw (such as “Phone Booth” with Colin Farrel and how it dealt with a selfish character).
With horror, it depends on what kind of horror you’re writing. If you’re writing a slasher flick, character flaws aren’t necessary. A thinking-person’s horror film, though? Yeah, you want a flaw (the lead’s flaw in The Orphange was that she couldn’t move on with her life — she was obsessed with the past). In dramas, you definitely want flaws. Westerns as well. Period pieces, usually.
Always give your characters flaws, no matter what the genre. People are just more interesting when they’re battling something internally. These are the internal struggles of the main character battling with external obstacles.
Flaws are universal. People across the planet battle fears, anxieties, obsessions and quirks daily. They make characters more accessible to audiences.
1) PUTS WORK BEFORE FAMILY AND FRIENDS
Balancing your personal and professional life is always a challenge. The question then becomes, over the course of the story, “Will the hero realize that friends and family are more important than work?” Most recently we saw it in Zero Dark Thirty (in which Maya never overcomes her flaw).
2) WON’T LET OTHERS IN
This is a common flaw that plagues millions of people. They’re scared to let others in. Maybe they’ve been hurt by a past lover. Maybe they’ve lost someone close to them. Maybe they’ve been abandoned. So they’ve closed up shop and put up a wall. The quintessential character who exhibits this trait is Will in Good Will Hunting. Will keeps the world at arm’s length, not letting Skylar in, not letting Sean (his shrink) in, not letting his professor in. The whole movie is about him learning to let down his walls and overcome that fear.
3) DOESN’T BELIEVE IN THEMSELF
It’s tough to muster up the confidence in one’s self to keep going and keep fighting every day. Billions of people lack confidence in themselves. So it’s a very identifiable trait and one of the reasons a main character overcoming it can illicit such a strong emotional reaction from the audience. It makes us think we can finally believe in ourselves and break through as well! We see this in such varied characters as Rocky Balboa, Luke Skywalker, Neo, and King George VI (The King’s Speech).
4) DOESN’T STAND UP FOR THEMSELF
This flaw is typically found in comedy scripts and one of the easier flaws to execute. You just put your character in a lot of situations where they could stand up for themselves but don’t. And then in the end, you write a scene where they finally stand up for themselves. The simplicity of the flaw is also what makes it best for comedy, since it’s considered thin for the more serious genres. I also find for the same reason that the flaw works best with secondary characters. We see it with Ed Helms’ character in The Hangover, Cameron in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (afraid to stand up to his father) and George McFly (Marty’s dad) in Back To The Future.
5) TOO SELFISH
There’s always been someone who puts themselves in front of others. Everybody in the world has someone like this in their life, so it’s extremely relatable and therefore a fun flaw to explore. It does come with a warning label though. Selfish characters are harder to make likable. Just by their nature, they’re not people you want to pal up with. So you need to look for clever ways to make them endearing for the audience. Jim Carrey in Liar Liar for instance — an extremely selfish character — would do anything for his son. Seeing how much he loves him makes us realize that, deep down, he’s a good guy. But it’s still a tough flaw to pull off. A few more notable selfish characters were Han Solo in Star Wars, Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day and Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network.
6) WON’T GROW UP
This is another comedy-centric flaw that tends to work well in the genre due to the fact that men who refuse to grow up are funny. We see it in Knocked Up. We see it in The 40 Year Old Virgin. We saw it with Jason Bateman’s character in Juno. We even see it on the female side with Lena Dunham’s character in the HBO show, Girls. It’s been proven to work because of how relatable a flaw it is. Who isn’t afraid to grow up? Who isn’t afraid of all the responsibilities of being an adult? That’s what I want to get across to you guys. These flaws all work because they’re universal. Everybody has experienced them in some capacity.
7) TOO UPTIGHT
You tend to see this flaw in television a lot. There’s always that one character who’s too uptight, the kind of person you want to scream at and say, “LET LOOSE FOR ONCE!” We all have friends like this as well, so it’s another extremely relatable flaw. Joel Barish (Jim Carrey) in Eternal Sunshine Of The Spotless Mind is plagued with this flaw. Jennifer Garner’s uptight hopeful mother in Juno is driven by this flaw. And you’ll see this flaw in Romantic Comedies a lot, in order to give contrast to the fun outgoing girl our main character usually meets (Pretty Woman).
8) TOO RECKLESS
You’ll usually find this flaw in more testosterone-centered flicks. Like with Jeremy Renner’s character in The Hurt Locker, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson) in Lethal Weapon, or James T. Kirk in the latest incarnation of Star Trek. The flaw dictates the character enter a lot of big chaotic situations in order to battle his flaw, so it makes sense. Recklessness isn’t something people emotionally respond too. However, it adds excitement, because audiences vicariously experience excitement through these characters because they do things they wouldn’t do themselves.
9) LOST FAITH
Losing one’s faith is an incredibly relatable experience. Something like 97% of the people on this planet believe in a higher being. But a majority of those people question their faith because now and then something terrible happens to shake it. Which is why you’ll see a ton of characters enduring this “flaw.” We saw it with Father Damian Karras in The Exorcist after his mother dies. We see it with Mel Gibson’s character in Signs after his wife is killed in a car accident. The journey often lies in characters restoring their faith.
10) PESSIMISM/ CYNICISM
This flaw isn’t used as much as the others, but you’ve seen it in movies like Sideways with Miles, Terrance Mann (James Earl Jones) in Field of Dreams, and Edward Norton’s character in Fight Club. Pessimism is ubiquitous in anti-heroes in dramas and noir films. Such characters explore truth and the pain of life. They’re frustrated with life.
11) CAN’T MOVE ON
This is one of the lesser-known flaws but a powerful one. It’s basically about people who can’t move on, who are stuck on someone or something from the past. Their obsession with that past has stilted their growth, and brought their life to a screeching halt. Most famously, you saw this in Up, with Carl Fredricksen, who hasn’t been able to get past his wife’s death. But you may also remember it from the movie Swingers, where Mike (Jon Favreau) is still obsessed with the girl who dumped him. He keeps waiting for that call. With relationships being so fickle, people are experiencing this flaw ALL THE TIME, so it’s very relatable and therefore very powerful when done right.
Originally published at gideonsway.wordpress.com on April 23, 2013.