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Writing => All the Write Questions => Topic started by: heartsongjt on October 31, 2018, 06:10:02 PM

Title: What does Character Flaw Mean?
Post by: heartsongjt on October 31, 2018, 06:10:02 PM
Creating Your Hero's Fatal Flaw

Fatal flaws are essential, because these characters have to suffer if there's going to be any kind of triumph at the end of the book. For the best suffering, you need a conflict that comes not just from the situation, but from the characters' own personalities...from the kind of people they are.


Type One is the Perfectionist, the Improver. These are the people who have very high standards for themselves and for the world. They know how things ought to be, and they do their best to make sure they (and the rest of the world) live up to it. There's never any question about what's right and what's wrong—no gray areas—and there's never any question that they'll constantly try to do and live for what's right.

Their motto is "I work toward perfection in an imperfect world," and their greatest desires are to avoid criticism and to be right. This can be a very heroic character,always willing to stand up for what he or she believes in, very aware of what's right and wrong. It's interesting that Type Ones are hardly ever overweight, which again is that sense of perfection.

Their most outstanding character trait is moral courage,but of course they've also got a fatal flaw, like everyone else.

Type Two is the Nurturer, the Helper, the Giver, who loves taking care of other people and feeling needed. They'll go out of their way to nurture everyone around them, always focusing on what others need more than on what they need.

In fact, they will frequently neglect their own needs and wind up feeling kind of hurt because, "After all I do for everyone, what thanks do I get?"

Two's motto is "People depend on me." (They live to be needed.)

An example might be Beth in Little Women, or Rachel in Susan Elizabeth Phillips' DREAM A LITTLE DREAM, where she was starving herself to feed her little boy. Twos are constantly giving, giving, giving.

Type Three is the Achiever, the Succeeder, the Performer—these people are very aware of the right image. They're always onstage, projecting whatever the situation requires. Success, career and achievement are important to matter what's going on around them, the Threes will look really, really good.

They go around believing (and this is their motto), "The world values a champion...I must avoid failure." So you can imagine the internal conflict when you get a Type Three who's faced with the prospect of failure.

At their worst a Three will embody charm without substance, at their best they embody excellence with a heart. Oprah Winfrey might be a real-life Three; Jay Gatsby might be a fictional one. Threes are often the oldest or only child in their family, because the firstborn is almost always oriented toward being the best and performing the best—and that's what Threes do.

Type Four is the Romantic, the Artist, the Individualist. These are people who love drama and tragedy and falling in love. They have BIG feelings, and they don't like feeling ordinary because that's too flat. Nothing is ever quite grand enough, long enough...they dream about the perfect love, and they're the best at offering wholehearted sympathy when you're feeling low. They make good teachers, actors, counselors, what Tom Condon called "translators of humanity."

When I did an enneagram website survey, looking for literary characters who fit each type, I was amazed at the responses for who's a Type Four. Somebody said Scarlett O'Hara, who devoted her whole life to pursuing the love of Ashley—in terms of romantic drive, Scarlett was definitely a Four. Somebody said ALL the Anne Rice characters, because of their huge, vast, sweeping emotions...big ups, big downs.

Type Five is the Observer, the Thinker, who'd rather be behind a book than out there involved in the world. They like to keep back, keep to themselves, study like crazy but always from a distance. They tend to "compartmentalize" their lives: work here, family there, one friend here, another group over there.... They're proud of getting by with very little, and they're very careful about guarding their time and their privacy and their personal space.

Sherlock Holmes sounds like a Five, because he's not involved in the world except on an intellectual level. Real-life Fives might be Albert Einstein (your classic ivory-tower professor), Greta Garbo ("I want to be alone"), and George Lucas (who dreamed up the whole Star Wars universe). Fives are out there in this whole other dimension, and it's mainly a world of the mind.

Type Six is the Defender, the Trooper—these are the people who get the job done. They're very aware of any possible threat to their well-being or the people they love; they're very aware of the rules and determined to always keep them...or to always break them. (That's the counter-phobic Six, the James Dean rebel type.) Either way, Sixes are very loyal, steady, always on the lookout for danger, good to have on your side.

It's interesting that in America there are more Sixes and Threes than any other type. Threes are flashier, Sixes are more steady and the Six hero is probably more a beta than an alpha male. I remember a Nora Roberts book where the heroine thought the hero didn't love her because as a special present he gave her a set of tires for her car, and a wise observer pointed out that there was PROOF he loved her—he wanted to keep her safe.

Type Seven is the Adventurer, the Enthusiast...they want to keep having new experiences, try whatever there is. They're interested in everything and everybody, at least at first glance, and they love to plan things, plan trips, plan new activities—whether or not they actually carry out those plans. They like to keep all their options open rather than settle for just one of anything.

Sevens are charming as all-get-out...maybe not so good over the long haul, but boy, they're wonderful to have dinner with. When they aren't all mentally healthy and together, it's usually because they've deliberately avoided being alone with themselves. Sevens who let themselves examine their feelings become more realistic, more generous; and they're almost always cheerful, curious and open to new experiences. Either way, they're fascinating to be with—fun, intriguing, delightful people.

Type Eight is the Controller, the Aggressor, the Chief—this person is a self-confident, natural leader. They're used to taking charge, getting things done, making sure everyone gets a fair shake. They go after what they want, always keeping an eye out for the people they care about; they're strong individuals who take it upon themselves to defend the weak...kind of a Wild West sheriff mentality.

An Eight's motto is "I defend the innocent in an unjust world." And this is incredibly heroic—except that not everybody agrees on what is innocence and what is justice, so you might have some people who think this Eight is a real jerk! Scarlett O'Hara might be an Eight, considering how she went back to Tara and bossed everybody around and saved them from starvation. Some of the family resented her for it, but she was determined to get her way and make sure everybody at Tara survived...this take-charge attitude is what makes an Eight heroic.

Type Nine is the Peacemaker, the Mediator. They want everyone to get along and everything to be nice. They don't like conflict; they don't like having to pick sides...even picking chocolate or vanilla. They tend to go along with the flow, whatever that might be, and instead of exploring their own preferences, they kick back with TV or food or whatever's comfortable. There's usually some anger back there, but it's completely denied. Nines are excellent at ignoring their own feelings.

They're the ones who'll be just kind of sitting back, letting everybody else flap around them. A few years ago there was a survey as to what types are most attractive to other types, and more women want to marry a Nine than any other type of man. (More men want to marry a Two.)

So from a thumbnail sketch of all the types, you can see how each of them has good and bad traits. It's not like God said, "I'm gonna make a handful of wonderful people and they're all gonna be Ones. Then we'll have those scuddy Twos and loser Threes and so on." Each type has innately wonderful traits...which, taken to excess, can be bad. And that's a good thing, because we need there to be some conflict between our perfectly wonderful heroes and heroines!

My source:

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Title: Re: What does Character Flaw Mean?
Post by: Mark T on November 01, 2018, 05:23:25 PM

Interesting stuff, Jan. The enneagram is interesting - sort of archetype mapping, as it were, so a good literary tool for developing characters.  It's not a bad departure point for that and for exploring one's own character. I've done the test with a consultant but I'm not saying where I fall on the grid  8)   
Title: Re: What does Character Flaw Mean?
Post by: heartsongjt on November 01, 2018, 06:59:27 PM
Interesting stuff, Jan. The enneagram is interesting - sort of archetype mapping, as it were, so a good literary tool for developing characters.  It's not a bad departure point for that and for exploring one's own character. I've done the test with a consultant but I'm not saying where I fall on the grid  8)   

I couldn't figure out my type - because I fall into all nine of them....  ;D