Wound, Fatal, or Tragic Flaw?
Interesting fiction (and real) characters have flaws, big messy self-sabotaging flaws that make them fascinating. Perfect characters seldom hold a reader’s attention.
But what’s the difference between a wound, a fatal flaw and tragic flaw?
It’s your job as the author to identify the backstory event you can define as “the wound.”
Painful events change a person. Locating a single backstory moment can help you better understand the root of your character’s psychological damage, their WOUND and why, as a result, they question their self-worth, or the world around them. This will also help you pinpoint the lie they believe and that they must overcome in order to become healthy and whole, fortifying them so they can achieve their goals.
And contained in every wound is a toxic lie. Psychological wounds are more than just painful memories.
Buried deep Inside each wound is a kernel of doubt. For example; How many adult children of divorce have wondered, Was it somehow my fault? Was I culpable? Am I unlovable?
This doubt grows (as the child does), eroding their sense of self.
“The term FLAW refers to the character’s weakness,” “the deep-rooted center of a character that makes him vulnerable to emotional attacks and the story’s forces of antagonism,” says Jim Mercurio (screenwriter) . “If its severity will destroy the character, then it is considered a tragic flaw.” “A flaw or weakness that does not rise to the level of tragic will challenge a character, but she will ultimately overcome it . . . by what is called a character arc.” http://www.jamespmercurio.com/
The last half of that quote says it all; if the character is ultimately destroyed by his flaw, then it’s tragic, like a Macbeth or The Talented Mr. Ripley–Mr. Ripley, the MOVIE, not the book. If not, then it’s a fatal flaw conquered so the character can move on and succeed at their goals, like Katniss Everdeen (Hunger Games ). Major character flaws come from life-changing events that impacted the character. For example, Katniss Everdeen has a fatal flaw of valuing others (beginning with her sister) and putting herself last. She does this numerous times, especially with Peeta. This major flaw in her character nearly gets her killed several times. She must overcome it to survive. And so she does. Her character arc is in overcoming her fatal flaw and not letting it destroy her.
If you’re writing a character with a change arc (like Katniss), it’s vital to know their fatal flaw so you can get them to the point of dealing with it head on. This is equally as significant in a failed arc, but instead of overcoming the fatal flaw, the character will succumb to it, resigning themselves to a tragic ending, like Macbeth, or Tom Ripley (Talented Mr. Ripley).
Tom Ripley is afraid. He believes a lie, that he is a worthless nobody (likely a childhood wound). He desperately wants to belong. He wants to be hip, cultured, cool, and heterosexual. Everything he isn’t.
As a man existing deep in the closet Tom’s entire life and identity is a lie. Like all homosexual men of the 1950s Tom takes on a dual life, one that is his day-to-day and the other another version of himself, one that he would like to be, and one that he’s willing to commit murder for in order to maintain.
Unlike the book, in the movie, when Tom kills Peter he kills himself, smothers the life out of his very soul. With Peter, the only one who ever loved him, tom had happiness, held it in his arms, touched its warmth against his skin … and then snuffed it out. Because he was afraid, afraid to be found out, to be found an impersonator, a liar, a manipulator, to be un-cool, un-hip, unworthy, totally worthless. All the things, the lies he believed. His tragic flaw won.
What is your character’s wound, or fatal flaw? Does that fatal flaw cross a boundary of no return and win?
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