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How to Stress-Test Your Main Character by Adding a Fatal Flaw

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by Script Reader Pro in How to Write Characters
September 29, 2016 17 comments
fatal flaw

How to Stress-Test Your Main Character by Adding a Fatal Flaw

(The following is a guest post by screenwriter and professor, Aaron Mendelsohn.)

Being a stickler about a protagonist’s fatal flaw is one of the key ways you’ll be able to create and sustain a successful screenwriting career.

If you’re pretty informal about how you do it right now, then you’re not story-breaking your protagonist’s fatal flaw correctly. What you need is a method that you can repeat with each new feature and pilot you write.

A good method is this: ask yourself a series of questions that prompt key ideas about your main character and their story points.

What Is a Central Character’s Fatal Flaw?

The protagonist’s fatal flaw is one of the key story drivers. Most three-dimensional protagonists have a fatal flaw. It doesn’t mean they’re bad, or weak, or broken—just that they have a chink in their armor.

♦  Maybe they’re selfish, or greedy, or obsessed with a less-than-desirable goal or love interest.

♦  Or they’re haunted by a tragic event from their past.

♦  Or, if the main character is an assassin or mob boss, maybe their fatal flaw is their compassion.

Whatever it is, in spite of the noblest intentions, that one fatal flaw in their character will inevitably set them on the wrong course in Act 2 until they realize the error of their ways and get back on track.

Ultimately, it’s the protagonist’s flaw that they must confront and overcome at the climax of the story in order to successfully complete their journey.

Always Answer Questions About a Character’s Flaw Truthfully

When you ask yourself what’s your protagonist’s fatal flaw is, to guide you through your story-breaking, the key is to answer truthfully.

If you try to cheat and come up with an answer that’s vague, or that twists a notion you already have in your head so it kinda-sorta fits the question, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

That’s just lazy writing.

When you answer questions about the main character’s fatal flaw truthfully, however, and with a lot of thought and substance, you end up with the foundation of a better screenplay.

###

Aaron Mendelsohn is a working screenwriter, a professor of screenwriting at Loyola-Marymount University, and the Secretary-Treasurer of the Writers Guild of America West.

He is best known for Disney’s Air Bud, which spawned eleven sequels. Current projects include a Warner Bros feature, a Spike TV drama series and a Hallmark movie. Aaron’s story-breaking method is now available as an ebook: The 11 Fundamental Questions: A Guide to a Better Screenplay.

For a limited time, he’s offering a 20% discount to Script Reader Pro readers. Go to www.11questionsbook.com for more information.

screenwriting mentorship

Enjoyed This Post? Read More on the Fatal Flaw and Creating Believable Characters…

Why Your Script Characters Feel “Flat” and How to Fix It

Why Creating a Character Bio Isn’t a Great Starting Point (And What to Do Instead)

How to Write a Screenplay: The Secret to Elevating It Above the Ordinary

[© Photo credits: Unsplash]

17 Comments
  1. Donna Wilson says:

    This is great stuff. really helpful and got me thinking about my protagonist in a new light.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      You’re welcome, Donna.

  2. Drew Ibold says:

    Does anyone know where I can get the screenplay to Moonlights?

  3. Martin says:

    Now I need to go back and add this fatal flaw. Thanks Script Reader Pro, great advice as usual!

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Martin!

  4. Abott says:

    Who is this Mendlesohn guy?

  5. Vinny says:

    Thanks, interesting post that’s made me think more about my heroes flaw now.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Glad it helped, Vinny!

  6. Dejan says:

    How do I add a fatal flaw to my character if he starts as a good guy? He does not get bad until the end of the script so how does that work.

    1. Robert says:

      TO DEJAN:
      I believe in that case you would do a “reverse” character arc… from good to bad… versus bad to good.
      An example might be: Michael Corleone in the Godfather.
      Good luck.

  7. jordan says:

    Great advice, thanks I always struggle with creating strong characters and this will really help.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks, Jordan!

  8. Robert says:

    I defer to the writer of the article, and all the professional screenwriters — past and present — when it comes to the jargon they choose to use in the industry… but, I find much of it unnecessarily confusing. For example, the term “fatal” flaw.
    I personally think the term “fatal” is too strong for the purpose of it’s usage. I would prefer “destructive” flaw.
    Which would be a flaw that leads to “destructive behavior” (how often in the movie is their flaw, literally “fatal” for them?) where you actually describe the type of behavior right in the term/word itself.

  9. Ivan Ugocuha says:

    I’m having trouble coming up with a flaw for my hero can u help??

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      We’d need to read the script, Ivan, to help you out so please check out our script coverage services.

  10. Ismael says:

    My protaginist has no “fatal flaw ” there is no rules like this we shud follow.. . article is Bs.

    1. Script Reader Pro says:

      Thanks for sharing, Ismael.

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