Technique: Flaws vs Handicaps

(These are my notes and thoughts in relation to the Writing Excuses podcast Season 1, episode 6 . I will also disseminate this information to the topical sections of my resource section).

A flaw is internal to the character and can be changed by the character. A flaw is the fault of the character and often leads to a character arc.

A handicap is external to the character and can’t be changed by them. A handicap is a limitation/constraint imposed by the plot. A handicap leads to different types of conflict.

Why is it important for our hero to be flawed?

It makes them more interesting and allows readers to identify with them.

People read about a super-man for escapism, they read about an every-man because they can identify with them. e.g. Han Solo has the flaw of greed, Luke Skywalker is handicapped by his youth (no one takes him seriously).

The importance of flaws is that they allow growth in characters.

The hero’s journey: an every-man who ends up a super-man.

Choosing the right flaw or handicap

Base it on the conflicts you want the hero to be dealing with. Look for points of conflict and justify the characters reaction to that conflict.

Make the flaw something that the villain can exploit.

Flaws should work into the story and make the conflict more intense (because of them).

If your character is not a likable person (because of their flaw) then you must make them competent (or the reader won’t like them).

Problems (for long-life characters)

How often can you have your character overcome a new flaw before the reader gets bored?

As the superhero gets more powerful how do you bring up new challenges for them?


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