Angela Ackerman: Larger than life characters Pt 2

And the flipside is using flaws / negative traits

Hobble your character with flaws

  • A flaw is a negative quality that emerges in a character’s personality as a result of an emotionally hurtful experience
  • Just as we have a survival response for physical dangers (fight or flight), we instinctively protect our emotions from harm as well
  • Flaws act as unhealthy emotional armour to ensure the same emotional pain doesn’t happen again

Flaws have deep roots, it is hard to get rid of them.

Howw negative traits (flaws) form

Negative influencers:

  • Antagonistic caregivers
  • Poor role models
  • Parasitic people who promote negativity, sabotage self-esteem, cause hurt and otherwise inhibit character’s self-growth

Wounding experience, situations and events:

  • An interaction that erodes self-confidence and leaves one feeling vulnerable and fearful
  • Negative lift lessons and bias learned through exposure to a longer term difficult situation


Flaws power up storytelling

  • Through realism and empathy

No-one is perfect – readers have flaws too

Flaws lead to mistakes and failures, and readers empathise with how it feels to screw up

Primes the reader to cheer for the hero/ heroine and for them to achieve self-growth


Flaws build tension and conflict

  • Fear and bias leave them open to emotional triggers
  • Character becomes own worst enemy (volatile reactions, bad judgement, poor decisions and mistakes)
  • Damages relationships with others
  • Whatever weakens hero strengthens antagonist


What does your character fear?


  • characters will do almost anything to avoid what they fear


  • While ‘protecting’ against emotional pain, they actually chain the character to their fears by inhibiting self-growth


Flaws reveal emotional wound and the character’s false belief

  • A painful past event, situation or hurtful set of circumstances that they fear will happen again
  • The lie the character believes about themselves is a result of guilt, shame, or poor self-worth, or it is about the world at large due to disillusionment
  • The wound is not always based in logic – it is how the character connects the dots in their own mind between a set of actions and a negative/wounding outcome
  • Character has ‘aha!’ moment when realises how fears are holding back


Flaws – a driver for change

  • Flaws trip character up at worse of times and they wonder why this keeps happening
  • They see their flaws for what they are and take ownership
  • Reflection and an unquenchable desire for a goal leads to change


Planning the fatal flaw: crucial to character arc

To achieve one’s goal

  • The fatal flaw must be minimised or subdued
  • Fears must be faced
  • One see The Lie for what it is, and The Wound loses its power
  • Strong and whole, obstacles are overcome


Step 4: strive for the unexpected 

What makes your character unique?

  • Skills and talents
  • Unique qualities
  • Passionate beliefs or special insights


How can you surprise the readers?

Challenge typical stereotypes and offer readers something new

Who needs gimmicks? Build original characters who fascinate

  • Conflicting traits
  • Unusual habits or quirks
  • Give them a secret


Step 5: Planning a character’s emotional range and sensibilities 

No two characters should express emotions in the same way, give each an individual response


Questions to ask

  • Is my character demonstrative or reserved?
  • What is his / her comfort zone when it comes to emotions?
  • How much personal space does character need to feel comfortable expressing emotions?
  • What events, people or situations act as emotional triggers?


Charting a character’s emotional landscape

  • Think about core emotions and know how your character might respond
  • Know which emotions are hot buttons
  • Understand how extreme emotions can cause morals to shift or steer reactions


When it comes to Emotions, empathy is especially important

Encourage ‘shared experience’ by conveying emotion in a believable way

Make sure all emotions it with the character’s personality

NOTE:  I am not exactly sure where Step 3 started.  It was somewhere in all those positive and negative traits!

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