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Eliminate cop-out flaws and bad characterization!:

Rabid Fujoshi
I guess this is a rant more than anything else, but I'm so tired of seeing this, and I would like nothing more than to hear everyone's thoughts and opinions on these matters.

Certain Character Flaws Are Overused Cop-Outs!

The specific ones I'm thinking of are 'snarkiness', 'temper' and 'stubborness'. Every damn hero or heroine I read about describes their character flaws as these three things and I am sick of it! Can't anyone think of anything else? Especially since these are pretty much codewords, and aren't flaws at all in the way people portray them. By snarkiness, they apparently meant "Witty And Funny, aren't I so great?", by temper the meant "I'm always right all the time and I've no problem saying it even when it's not something you want to hear!" and by stubbornness they meant "No, I'm doing the right thing no matter what, even if I have to martyr myself to save this bus full of children and it would be safer, but more cowardly, to think of myself!"

They are total cop-outs! Snarkiness occasionally the character will actually piss the wrong person off with (more on snark later), but temper and stubbornness especially almost never gets them into the kind of trouble that would make us think less of the character for it, and it's actually not the flaw's fault, it's the bad characterization and the fact that the authors are apparently operating on a different definition of those words than the real world. In fact, they usually aren't stubborn on anything but 'doing the right thing!' or 'sticking by their friends!' or 'doing things something by themselves!' The temper will pop up but it is almost always on someone who deserves it, never on someone who doesn't, and they are almost never called out on it properly or reliably.

Other types of serious cop-out flaws are superficial things like fearing heights, or seasickness or being handicapped. It's like Kryptonite for superman. There's no character growth into a different person that can happen through this weakness, because it has nothing to do with the person's actual character, and in a lot of cases it's nothing they can even do anything about. It's basically there so the author can say "See? She's only PRACTICALLY invincible!". Overcoming this type of 'flaw' rather than making them a better person, morally, just makes them more capable or more powerful. This stuff isn't even flaws, I just call them handicaps to balance out powerful characters. You might as well just think of them as stats or something, it has nothing to do with personality.

Make properly flawed characters, please, dear God!

What do I mean by properly flawed characters? I mean, have multiple instances where this character flaw (as in it is actually something in their personality or philosophy or character!) alienates them from other people through their own actions, it ebing completely their fault, to the point that they notice, or other people point it out to them. Have it show up consistently and often, not just whenever it's convenient, or when it will do the least harm. Have it actually affect their thinking and the way other characters interact with them. Have it leave the character thinking things like "Damn it, why did I do that? Why was a I such a bitch to the one person who still listens to my rants and makes me feel better? Why did I completely insult them in a way that was by no means justifiable or right and was in fact a horrible, jerkish thing to do, just because I was in a bad mood?"

And if it's a flaw, don't show it being a good thing or helping them out or working in their favor. This is why being snarky is just a crappy flaw, indeed it's not a flaw at all. We like snarkiness, we think of it as funny, so calling snarkiness a flaw is...well, just incorrect, and a total lie. When characters actually do get in trouble for being snarky, we usually see it as unjustified and unfair, we feel sympathetic not think, "Well, there you go, you deserved it." It completely undermines the point, which is the flaw being something to overcome, that gets in their way as an obstacle to make them grow. Working with snarkiness again, when a character ever does portrayed as being genuinely flawed for being snarky, the snark isn't the flaw, it's the side affect of the flaw, which is usually a disrespectful attitude, being a jerkass, or extreme cynicism/pessimism.

I won't say a flaw can't ever be shown as being good or okay or not called out on to work as a proper flaw, but you should operate as if it is a rule if you really want to be certain a flaw will be perceived as an actual flaw. because apparently people have trouble with this.

Now you might be thinking, but if I do all this, my character is going to be lame and no one will like or want to read about them! They won't be. I promise. And actually there are is one very simple way to make sure they will still be liked despite this deep character flaw: give them good intentions and a willingness to change. Seriously, I can almost guarantee that such a character, with properly written flaws, when given said trait, will turn out interesting and likable. We will root for them, no matter how flawed they are, because we like to think we can overcome our deep flaws to. We want to see them become that better person.

Just Some Underused Flaws
  • Excessive Boastfulness
  • Excessive Lying
  • Vanity
  • Bossiness
  • Selfishness
  • Being overly emotional or dramatic
  • Immaturity
SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 2 Loni Jay, Fri, 25th Nov '11 12:58:10 AM from Australia Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
I think stubbornness can be used as a 'real' flaw if you show them being stubborn when they're in the wrong. I have this character flaw myself - my mother always used to say to me "You're like a dog in a manger". The manger isn't doing the dog any good and it could do others good if it got out, but it won't. Pretty much the same thing with temper.

Now, snarkiness... I used to know someone who would never discuss feelings seriously. It always had to be snarky comments. It drove me crazy because you could never have an honest conversation with them; you had to dance around trying to figure out what they really thought.
Be not afraid...
Rabid Fujoshi
If I didn't say it in my above post, I'll say it now. Cop-out flaws (except snarkiness which I still maintain is a symptom of a flaw, not a flaw unto itself) can be done well, and are real flaws, they are just consistently, to the point of being notorious IMO, done poorly, and are excessively overused.

Now the sneakiness you just described, again is a symptom of something else, which you just explained: being unable to talk about feelings seriously/comfortably. The Snarkiness, again, is the symptom used to dance around doing it. Snark is pretty much always a hint of some other underlying ailment. If it isn't, than people are usually doing it out of ignorance that it is actually annoying someone, in which case it becomes a superficial flaw, because once they find this out, they can stop, there isn't a moral battle within one's self to not do it.

edited 25th Nov '11 1:10:15 AM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 4 nrjxll, Fri, 25th Nov '11 1:17:17 AM Relationship Status: Not war
For the record, there is in fact a trope - Good Flaws, Bad Flaws - about this kind of thing.

Also for the record, I have never seen "snarkiness" described as a flaw. "Temper" and "stubbornness" are indeed common cop-out flaws, but when I see a character described as "snarky", 99 times out of 100 it's a compliment.

edited 25th Nov '11 1:17:31 AM by nrjxll

 5 fanty, Fri, 25th Nov '11 1:46:47 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
I don't know if it's just me, but I find the idea of treating characters as bundles of flaws and features as something extremely weird and unnatural. Some parts of my characters' personalities are the sorts of things that hold them back sometimes, but still. they help at other times. Every imaginable characteristic has both drawbacks and merits, branding it as a "flaw" is oversimplifying it and making the character very unrealistic and one-dimensional.
Individual liberation is an illusion.
 6 Wolf 1066, Fri, 25th Nov '11 2:16:53 AM from New Zealand Relationship Status: In my bunk
Wolf1066
I think fanty's got a point. Jury's out on what my actual flaws are - no two people seem to agree. While there are some aspects of my personality that get mentioned more frequently than others when discussing flaws, there are some aspects that some people view as "flaws" (of the "I'm gonna wring his fucking neck!" variety) while other people view those same characteristics as "quirky" or even admirable.

When it comes to characters, though, how do "having multiple wives" and "keeping slaves" stack up on the flaw list?
Dangerously Genre Savvy since ages ago...
Rabid Fujoshi
Trust me, I've read books where "being a snarky smart-alic" has expressly been stated as being a character's flaw. In particular the Mercedes Thompson series.

[up][up]Ah, but you see it's bad writers that force us to have to describe it that way. They write a 'perfect' never-do-wrong character and when we say it has problems, they say, what are they? So we have to expressly point out 'they have no flaws!' Real people have different parts of their character they struggle with or that get them into trouble. When a narrative fails to address these traits in a character it is a problem.

[up]A flaw that is going to actually bring any kind of depth to a character in terms of a man-versus-self struggle, is going to be a character flaw, not some superficial flaw. Those are just regular old obstacles or handicaps. I would actually call those supposed 'flaws' you mentioned symptoms of a flaw, not flaws in and of themselves. If you keep slaves you probably do so because your idea of what is moral is off, or you are to cowardly to live by your own beliefs and just do what society tells you is okay. If you have a lot of wives I wouldn't really even call that a superficial flaw since different people have different opinions on whether that is moral or not. It's controversial, so it's only really a flaw if the narrative treats it like one.

edited 25th Nov '11 3:51:59 AM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
 8 fanty, Fri, 25th Nov '11 4:04:32 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
I think that telling people to think of their characters in terms of a laundry list of character traits, separated into two columns of "good" and "bad", won't make them into better writers (Not that I'm claiming to be oh so great at it, etc. etc.). It will simply lead to a yet another type of shallow characters.

Actually, I personally think that there isn't really any real way to describe what a properly written character is like (without ending up calling a ton of perfectly fine characters "badly written"), and it's impossible to teach someone how to write one. Any guidelines, like "add some flaws", seem extremely arbitrary and very disconnected from what real actual people are like.
Individual liberation is an illusion.
Rabid Fujoshi
[up]That may be true, but us feeble advice givers have to do the best we can when they ask us 'why?'.

If you went about making a character in terms of making columns saying things like "hobbies" "goals" "talents" "flaws" it's sort of a roundabout way of writing a character that can help some people and do nothing for others. I'm not advocating that anyway, I know I don't think of characters that way, nor am I thinking others should. I'm talking about good characterization, which is so scarce these days, especially in Sci-Fi and Fantasy. Everything is freaking plot based to the detriment of interesting, deep and complex character study and internal character grow. There's nothing inherently bad about plot-based stuff really, but everything is these days, except for 'literature' which tends to just be boring IMO because they go to far the other way. Even the stuff that pretends to have characterization just throws in cop out flaws and leaves it at that, they don't explore the growth of the character through these flaws, it's just used to make them seem superficially more like a real person, when actually the world is warping for them so the real consequences of a person who would actually have said 'flaws' in real life, too conveniently never pop up or get in the way of the action and it's more of an Informed Flaw, if anything at all. I'm talking about making real, deep people, and I'm not trying to give you a recipe book of character sheet to fill in, I'm saying think about real people and the real trouble they have with their own personality traits and the real consequences and you will inevitably end up with a realistically flawed character.

edited 25th Nov '11 4:34:13 AM by NoirGrimoir

SPATULA, Supporters of Page Altering To Urgently Lead to Amelioration (supports not going through TRS for tweaks and minor improvements.)
Element of love
Good post We concur in many points , in my (wip) personality guide fake flaws.

Btw do you think there is such thing as a flaw that should never be fixed by the character like a permanent flaw?
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else. C. S. Lewis
 11 fanty, Fri, 25th Nov '11 6:41:17 AM from ANGRYTOWN
Woefully Ineloquent
I don't really know why, but I always was of the opinion that the reason why sci-fi and fantasy doesn't tend to feature many properly written characters, is not because the writers of those genres don't know what a properly written character is like or how to write them, but because they see themselves as forging an escapist fantasy, and realistic characters would simply get in the way of that.
Individual liberation is an illusion.
[up][up]Yes, actually; your characters shouldn't overcome absolutely every flaw that they've been saddled with, as they risk losing a lot of what makes them interesting and relatable. They can learn to deal with a major weakness that causes them quite a bit of trouble throughout the plot, but generally speaking, they shouldn't change from being regular people with their own natural failings to nigh-perfect, morally infallible supermen over the course of the story (unless, of course, that's what your story is supposed to be about).

edited 25th Nov '11 6:42:23 AM by tropetown

 13 Major Tom, Fri, 25th Nov '11 8:16:12 AM Relationship Status: Barbecuing
Eye'm the cutest!
'temper' and 'stubborness'.

I wouldn't call stubbornness or temper cop outs. Most folks have either or both. It's so common in reality it can easily be a disappointment if somebody doesn't have either. (Or indicative of Mary Sue.)
Endless Conflict: Every war ends in time, even supposedly this one.
 14 Crystal Glacia, Fri, 25th Nov '11 8:28:03 AM from Cedarpointland
patience, young padawan
I agree with Noir on flaws a lot. I view flaws- or any realistically-played trait, actually -as being something that grounds a character in reality. To me, they're like any other trait- they're double-edged swords and can be viewed as good or bad, but I make sure to tie it into the rest of their character.

This is another problem that I think writers have- they write up a character, step back, and realize, "Oh, they're too perfect! D:" and then just throw some flaws on, usually the aforementioned temper and stubbornness, and it ties into the rest of the character about as well as cake with tabasco instead of icing.

edited 25th Nov '11 8:30:09 AM by CrystalGlacia

 15 Mr AHR, Fri, 25th Nov '11 8:39:42 AM from ಠ_ಠ Relationship Status: A cockroach, nothing can kill it.
Ahr river
Death of a Salesman is a great case of how to use stubborness as a good flaw.

I make my characters too flawed...
 16 loganlocksley, Fri, 25th Nov '11 11:31:12 AM from On the ceiling
Occasionally Smart
I think that telling people to think of their characters in terms of a laundry list of character traits, separated into two columns of "good" and "bad", won't make them into better writers.

I have mixed thoughts on this. One one hand, I agree that writing a character is not as simple as "They do X right but they suck at Y." But on the other hand, if writing a list of your character's traits is what you need to do to really get inside their head, then go for it.

The important thing is that you come to know your character, and not just know about them. If listing their attributes and flaws in detail and writing out extensive back-stories and mapping their relationships with other characters helps you know who they are as a person, then it is a good thing. But you have to realize that the information isn't what makes the character - the character makes the information.
He's like fire and ice and rage. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time. Rory punched him in the face.
 17 Eventua, Fri, 25th Nov '11 1:52:20 PM from Dumundi Relationship Status: I won't say I'm in love
Lord of the Citadel
This thread has made me think about the protagonists for some stories I've written, and so far:

  • Nickel's curiosity, while proving to be useful on occasion leads him to both short term and long term problems. Though that may well just be as much a result of being the victim of a lot of Fantastic Racism as much as his own impulsiveness.

  • Abigail/Arincilet's vanity and occasional greed leads to most people disliking her, rendering what few allies she could have (with the exception of Nickel, who serves her out of necessity) uninterested.

  • Mary is too trusting: it ultimately leads to her losing the only stable job she has and having her dreams destroyed.

  • Iram's temper and stubborness, while sometimes directed at genuine 'villains', leads to a lot of problems: temper and stubborness combined with a lack of self-control and arrogance? Not good.

  • Mystidia's need for perfection from both herself and others as well as an overly serious nature leads to a person that most people are intimidated (and bored) by. She's also extremely introverted, reaching Sheldon levels of both snarkiness and just generally being an ass.

  • Gaudium's scatter-brained and laidback nature, coupled with genuine cowardice around personal, mundane situations (such as confronting his relatives or the woman he loves) leads to a person who no one trusts with responsibility and someone who is generally considered to be The Fool at best, The Load at worst.

  • Timora's extreme lack of self-confidence and bouts of genuine, crippling cowardice, on occasion just sitting back as terrible things happen. Later, after the Mind Rape, a complete lack of compassion or empathy, to the point where most people feel she's barely even human anymore.

Hmm...

It just occured to me, a lot of my protagonists are pretty close to being Anti Heroes. o_O"

edited 25th Nov '11 1:54:55 PM by Eventua

The Signature Of Me
 18 Kyle Jacobs, Fri, 25th Nov '11 1:53:40 PM from Connecticut/D.C.
Nice Guy
While these can be used as cop outs in the way you're suggesting, they can also be perfectly legitimate. For example, while having a temper can be used as "I'm right all the time and have no qualms about letting people know it, " it can also be used for when the character is wrong to highlight the overarching flaw of arrogance. Similarly, snark can range from the author showing off their wit or lack thereof to a tool used to show the snarker's haughty and dismissive attitude. Alternately, the snarker could not know when to stop and repeatedly make light of things that have strong emotional roots.

Flaws for my characters:

  • Ryan has a seriously vicious temper. As in people who piss him off tend to die. He's very good about keeping this in check most of the time, but even that is a pragmatic to keep himself in everyone's good graces: once nobody's watching, he has no qualms about exacting brutally efficient revenge.

  • Nicole is quite stubborn, but she's also wrong about a third of the time. There is an arc I'm considering developing that sees her trying to take on a building full of enemies by herself against orders and getting herself captured, forcing everyone else to risk blowing their covers and/or getting killed to rescue her.

  • Jason is as stubborn as Nicole, and is also wrong with some frequency. The difference is that he recognizes this as well as the fact that when he screws up, people die. As a result, he's constantly working to force himself to be more open to compromise.

edited 25th Nov '11 2:08:46 PM by KyleJacobs

Read Remus! Has nothing to do with wolves.
 19 Oh So Into Cats, Fri, 25th Nov '11 2:03:45 PM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
I remember writing a character with a flaw so severe that it made him unreadable to some. :/

Because of this I do not consider choosing "flaws" and whatnot to be so important. Subtler flaws are usually better.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
Snarkiness is a flaw, and an extremely annoying one at that. The problem is that the authors who utilize it aren't aware of this.
And better than thy stroke; why swellest thou then?
 21 Caissas Death Angel, Fri, 25th Nov '11 4:27:19 PM from Dumfries, SW Scotland Relationship Status: Pining for the fjords
House Lewis: Sanity is Relative
[up] Can be, not "is". It's perfectly possible for snarkiness to not be a flaw. If anything, I tend to see it as a positive characteristic, though it's all about context and timing, really.
My name is Addy. Please call me that instead of my username.
I don't see how snarkiness isn't a flaw, unless you're highly impressed by Diablo Cody, or by fifth graders talking back. I suppose it must be a matter of perspective.
And better than thy stroke; why swellest thou then?
 23 nrjxll, Fri, 25th Nov '11 4:34:06 PM Relationship Status: Not war
[up]I have to side with the OP on this one - snarkiness can certainly be a negative trait rather then the endearing one many people see it as, but it's not a flaw in its own right - only a symptom of one.

edited 25th Nov '11 4:34:24 PM by nrjxll

 24 loganlocksley, Fri, 25th Nov '11 4:53:39 PM from On the ceiling
Occasionally Smart
[up][up]Depends what somebody means when they say "that character is snarky." It could mean "that character is witty and says funny things" or it could mean "that character is a jerk who sarcastically insults everybody all the time." Being snarky is not automatically a good thing, and it doesn't automatically make a character funny or endearing. In fact, if it's done wrong, it has exactly the opposite effect.
He's like fire and ice and rage. He's ancient and forever. He burns at the centre of time. Rory punched him in the face.
 25 Crystal Glacia, Fri, 25th Nov '11 5:06:20 PM from Cedarpointland
patience, young padawan
Literally any perceived flaw can be played as a strength, and vice-versa. Snarking just gets annoying if used in an inappropriate context; when used right, it's funny.
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