Monday, July 18, 2011

Segment 2 of the RWA Nationals Workshop, Flaw

Happy Monday, and welcome back to our notes for the CREATING THE PERFECT HERO workshop I gave with Jenna Kernan and Deb Mullins at RWA 2011.

Today's segment is your character's flaw...Enjoy.


I don’t like the term fatal flaw. Because it sort of gives us the sense that our character should have a big, awkward, sometimes disgusting, flaw that prevents or precludes him or her from loving or being loved.

That can be true. There are plenty of successful “scar” or “wound” romances out there. But a huge flaw isn’t necessary for a successful story. A HUGE CONFLICT IS…but that’s our next segment.

For right now, let’s talk flaw.

What is a flaw? Something unique to your character that can be perceived as negative. A fear. A habit. An addiction. An attitude. A physical imperfection.

Why have a flaw?

Because no one is perfect. Seriously. I once heard a speaker tell a story of a book someone sent to her for a critique. The manuscript had been rejected by EVERYONE in the early 80’s when no one was getting rejected and the writer couldn’t figure out why.

The book begins with the heroine graduating from nursing school. She lands the perfect job. Finds the perfect apartment. Her landlords are a loving old couple who dote on her. She finds a great car, cheap. And the most handsome doctor in the hospital falls for her.

Sound interesting? Maybe. But is it a compelling story? Not even a little bit.

A great story is four things. Interesting, compelling, credible and consistent.

For something to be interesting it simply has to catch our attention. Credible…it only has to make sense. Consistent…if the guy is afraid of heights on page 12, he’d better at least shiver at the possibility of scaling a wall to save the heroine in chapter 12.

But for a book to be compelling, readers really want to be able to connect with and root for the main characters.

Do we root for perfect people? Sometimes. But they don’t resonate with us. We don’t connect to them because most of us have flaws, quirks.

But if you have a hero who longs to be understood after a past riddled with mistakes – lots of readers can identify. If you have a straightforward, strong, smart hero who drinks (like Robert Parker’s Jesse Stone) and can’t quit his addiction (thought he manages it) you have a character who intrigues us. Especially those of us who aren’t alcoholics. We’re curious about what makes this guy tick. Why would he risk everything for the contents of a bottle?

A flaw can be something as simple as someone who hates spiders (adding interest or maybe humor to a story) or something as intense as Jesse Stone’s alcoholism. But whatever you choose, the flaw needs to fit the story.

A hero with obsessive compulsive disorder like Monk’s on the TV show Monk, added humor but it was also the reason he was the great detective that he was. He saw things others didn’t. Because he was always looking.

But flaws don’t always have to be something you can use for good. Sometimes they are part of what the main characters have to overcome to achieve their happily ever after.

Whitney Ross in my book THE BABY PROJECT could not move beyond her husband’s suicide because he also killed their child. She had to overcome that. Jesse Stone’s alcoholism interferes with his life. And though he can’t seem to overcome it, he manages it.

So your character’s flaw has to have a purpose.

The purpose we see most often is the one where the hero (or heroine) has a flaw they have to overcome to save the heroine (or hero) from the villain.

The fear-of-heights hero who must scale the wall in chapter 12 to save the heroine – proves his love.
The hero who quits smoking for the heroine, proves his love.

But those kinds of sacrifices also demonstrate character growth…one of the biggest bugaboos for beginning writers.

Every editor, every agent…every reader…whether they know it or not, wants to come away from a book with the sense that the hero and/or heroine have grown -- that LOVE makes us more. Makes us better. Or if you’re not writing romance, that our challenges make us more…make us better!

Correction of little flaws can be used along the way in a book to show the hero and heroine adjusting to each other or their situation. Committing to each other.

Because we cannot resolve the CONFLICT that keeps them apart, (or the book would be over) these smaller steps of flaw correction throughout the story can demonstrate the hero and heroine becoming committed to each other.

I just read a book wherein the heroine was a workaholic. The first time she skipped out on work to see the hero, we all knew she was seriously falling for him.

Now, she didn’t totally correct the flaw. But she took a step. A big step and that spoke volumes.

So don’t give your hero a limp just to satisfy one of those things on the list of things every romance novel must have.

THINK THROUGH YOUR FLAWS. Think about how you will use them. Think about what they will say about your character. Think about how they will affect plot. Think about what purpose they will serve in character growth.

And think about what it will mean if they don’t correct the flaw. Will it be more important for the heroine to accept the hero’s flaw? Sometimes rather than fix it, the heroine’s acceptance will be the greater plot point!

Which takes us to incorrect core beliefs.


We'll talk about incorrect core beliefs, or internal conflict, next week.

Until then...Happy Writing!


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