by guest Laurie Schnebly Campbell
It's pretty rare that someone's inborn flaw is actually fatal. After all, in real life God gives all kinds of second chances -- and even in fiction, we don't generally want our characters dropping dead in Chapter Two.
Well, unless somebody needs to get killed early on for the sake of the plot. For a minor character, as well as for a villain, it's perfectly all right to inflict them with some genuinely fatal flaw.
But we can’t stop there.
We also need to give some flaws to our MAIN characters…and then watch ’em struggle.
If that prospect delights you, skip the next few paragraphs. If you cringe at the thought of your beloved hero and/or heroine suffering, here’s some advice:
As pleasurable as it may be to envision perfect people whose lives are full of happiness, that doesn’t add up to a very compelling book. Most of us, just like most of our readers, know that life can be painful and difficult at times…and that every once in a while, we behave in some less-than-heroic way.
A character who lacks the self-confidence to speak up about some uncomfortable issue?
A character who knows there’s no reason to envy Big Sister but does so anyway?
A character who wants to lose ten pounds but can’t resist the post-workout snack?
We can relate to people like them.
So watching their fatal flaws (such as fear, or envy, or gluttony) get them in trouble confirms what we know about life.
And that makes it all the more rewarding, all the more uplifting and thrilling and just plain satisfying, to see them overcome those traits in time to bring about their happy ending.
WHAT FLAW SHOULD THEY HAVE?
Those of you who already know about Enneagram theory (ennea, pronounced ANY-uh, is the Greek word for nine) will remember how each personality type has its own unique strength…which, taken to excess, can also be a weakness.
And here’s what those are for each of the nine types. I'm giving examples for male characters, but they work equally well for women:
The righteous Reformer wants to do right, think right and BE right at all times. Setting very high standards for the world (and for himself) earns him a white hat. However, he gets angry whenever anyone (including himself) doesn’t live up to those high standards...so you can see the problem.
The helpful Nurturer does a fabulous job of looking out for loved ones and anyone else who crosses his path, so he’s great to have on your side. However, he takes such pride in being needed that he might work to make people dependent rather than independent, creating room for conflict.
The golden-boy Achiever always looks fabulous / successful / brilliant, and can light up a room just by walking in. (Think movie star or handsome prince.) Thing is, that glittering facade might not be totally accurate in every respect, and he doesn’t know how to reveal anything else.
The never-afraid-of-emotions Romantic sees great, sweeping visions of how life could be, and his creative passion gives the rest of us something to dream about. But since everyday life rarely measures up to those great visions, he’ll feel envious every time he compares reality to the ideal.
The analytical Observer puts thoughts ahead of feelings, focusing on whatever most interests him and staying detached from petty concerns about popularity or money or fame. He’s greedy for privacy to pursue his studies, and that detachment frustrates anyone who wants his attention.
The skeptical Guardian resolutely does his job, but he’s constantly aware of potential dangers and ready for fight or flight (usually bouncing between both options). Keeping security as his top priority can be useful, but such vigilant caution can be taken too far…in either the fight or flight direction.
The ready-for-anything Adventurer embraces life in its greatest variety, keeping all his options open in the quest to enjoy every possible new experience, person and place. But since he’d rather not settle for just ONE of anything, anyone expecting some commitment will be in for a long wait.
The natural Leader has a lust for power, which keeps him in control of every situation he encounters — if he can’t control it, he won’t go there. Whether out in front or behind the scenes, he wants to protect his inner core at all times, which leaves him unable to risk any (yep) vulnerability.
The easygoing Peacemaker is great at building a consensus, making everyone feel appreciated, keeping the group happy, and going along to get along. He minimizes any potential conflict by never expressing his own wishes, instead relying on whatever’s comfortable — TV, food, you name it.
Keep in mind that most real-life people have already done a pretty good job of overcoming their flaws. It’s only the fictional characters who need to grow & learn & change…so they’ll come up against all kinds of conflict on their way to the happy ending!
WHAT COMES NEXT?
If you'd like more information along these lines, you can get it next month in my email class (with always-optional homework) on “Nine Flaws, Nine Triumphs” at rwamysterysuspense.org/node/112 OR anytime (with 90% different information than the class) in my “Believable Characters: Creating with Enneagrams” book.
THAT'S THE PRIZE…
...for whoever’s comment wins the Seekerville drawing tonight, and THAT leads us right into the ready-for-comments
In a character you’re reading or writing about now, can you spot some trait with good & bad qualities as two sides of the same coin? Who is this person, and what's their trait?
Laurie, eager to see some characters for books I'll get to enjoy soon or a year from now!
Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves giving workshops for writer groups about "Psychology for Creating Characters," "Making Rejection WORK For You," "Building A Happy Relationship For Your Characters (And Yourself)" and other issues that draw on her background as a counseling therapist and romance writer.
Learn more about writer and speaker Laurie athttp://booklaurie.com