Writing Excuses 6: Flaws Versus Handicaps
Internal or external, who’s in control? Why do readers want characters with flaws? And how, as a writer, do you mix and match your characters and their flaws? This episode looked at those questions…
What are the differences between flaws and handicaps?
- Flaw is internal, while a handicap is external. For example, a flaw might be a bad relationship, while a handicap is a strict time limit, something that is imposed externally
- I’m writing comedy, so I need a flaw or handicap to set up a punchline. Several examples from Schlock Mercenaries, set to the repeat of “but in a lovable way”
- I think of a handicap as a constraint
- The flaw is the hero’s fault, while the handicap is not their fault. Temper is a fault, while unusual constraints are handicaps. The hero does not have to overcome handicaps, but they do overcome flaws. Flaws lead to character arcs, while handicaps set up conflicts.
Why are flaws important?
- They make characters more interesting. Readers identify with them. They can already be that guy, and they say, “that’s me.”
- Flaws allow growth
- one approach that is common in fantasy is to start with the everyman, with believable flaws, and have them become Superman. That’s an origin story.
- One danger that many comics fall into is to freeze Superman just on that edge, and not let them grow.
- Can of worms: retconning (sp?)
- One problem in fiction is the power creep problem: the hero has overcome, and now we want to give him new challenges that are more difficult, or maybe start adding new flaws for them to overcome again.
- Soap opera problem: develop, overcome, and then face new issues
- flaws allow us to watch growth – readers identify with growth, they identify with change. But we also fear change, and growth is painful. But in reading, we can watch someone else go through it and emerge on top, giving us an inner thrill and a feeling that we can become someone better.
- One of the prime reasons we read is to watch other people overcome difficulties and trials, experiencing this in a somewhat safe but also somewhat threatening way.
How do you match flaws with heroes?
- Look at the conflicts that the hero will deal with
- look for the point of conflict, and justify their reaction with flaws
- Flaws should work into the story, be a part of the conflict and exacerbate the conflict. Otherwise they’re just quirks. They should hinder the character and the story. And they should be something that the villain will exploit.
How do you give characters a flaw and still make them likable, or at least keep readers reading?
- The main character has an advantage, since we see the world through their eyes and tend to identify with them. There’s also a danger, because if readers can’t identify with that person they will close the book.
- You need to make sure there are elements that people can identify with, even if the overall character is not likable.
- Best way is to make sure that they have something they are competent at, and balance that with their flaws
Current Mood: satisfied
Current Music: Stealing Cinderella, Chuck Wicks