The world looks completely different when you are creating. I have always noticed this when I’m painting. You finish up a painting session, and then you go outside and the trees are suddenly a collection of shapes and shadows and lights. It’s your right brain putting the world together the way IT sees it, and it’s really nice, because most of the time your left brain is the boss.
But I noticed it again when I went to the movies last night and saw Doctor Strange. Here in the throes of trying to craft a story, I saw the movie as just that… I saw the character arc, and the protagonist-antagonist dynamic, the rise and fall of the action, the flow between where the protagonist is prevailing and where he is knocked down and almost out.
And I ate. it. up. Love the movie, by the way, and while I will be talking about the story here, I will not spoil it for you. I’m enough of a New Age geek that I absolutely adored this movie. Nature of reality, damn, let’s have more stories about that, with special effects that mess with your head, woo!
Anyway, the monumental character flaw of the protagonist absolutely slaps you in the face here. He reminded me of House from the TV series of the same name… medical genius but arrogant as heck and a real ass about it. But House (at least as far as I watched the series, which honestly wasn’t that far) never really resolved that flaw. Ultimately Stephen Strange gets pretty self-sacrificing (not saying more than that!) in solving the problems that plague his world… problems he never asked to be involved in solving.
I have a pretty solid background setup for Once a Rebel, 10,000 words (ish) in, but I realized two things about my book watching the movie: my character is not flawed enough, and I am not thinking nearly epic enough as far as the challenges that face her.
So I’m going to talk for a moment about character flaws. Specifically, about protagonist flaws. Here’s a link to a list for your writerly use, with a list of possible character flaws. Please click and open it because otherwise the rest of this blog post won’t make that much sense to you.
First of all, looking at that list, you need to be really careful about this. There are two reasons you want your main character to be flawed, which essentially boil down to one, the second one.
- It makes a good story… static characters are not interesting.
- The reason it makes a good story is because your protagonist is in actuality a stand-in for your reader, and you want them to identify with your protagonist.
So, while you must have a flawed protagonist, they cannot be too flawed. You don’t want an axe murderer, probably not someone who sleeps around, probably not an extreme racist or skinhead or something. There are certain character flaws that are unforgivable in a protagonist. It’s easy to err on the side of making them too likeable, so making them hate-able probably isn’t a worry. It’s more likely that the writer will give them flaws that are more like quirks. Some examples from the tropes list above: forgets to eat, fear of thunder (unless thunder figures into your story or your world pretty heavily), heavy sleeper.
So ultimately, the character’s flaw and basic fear need to play into the conflict you’re planning, because the conflict is the catalyst that causes the character to change. In Doctor Strange’s case, his towering ego and mastery of science has to get slapped down in order for him to embrace becoming a beginner again in learning the occult arts and looking at reality in a different way.
Here’s the important takeaway: the protagonist’s flaws should be big enough to make it a question of whether they will overcome them and sort out the conflict. And the conflict should not be just a series of bad things that happens to the character, but something she has control over if she does overcome her own inner obstacles.
So, my plan for today is to sit down with that list and think about George’s personality as I’ve already established it, what her great fears and flaws are, what her desires are, and how those are going to play into the conflict I haven’t quite sorted out in my head yet, in hopes that those concepts will generate the conflict.