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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 a Screenplay
September 29, 2016 9 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 Your 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 fatal flaw that the protagonist must confront and overcome at the climax of the story in order to successfully complete their journey.

Always Answer Questions About the Fatal 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.

More posts on creating believable screenplay characters…

♦  THE MISSING LINK IN THE CONFLICT BETWEEN YOUR PROTAGONIST AND ANTAGONIST

♦  SCREENPLAY CHARACTER ARC DEMYSTIFIED

♦  MAKE SCREENPLAY CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT 100X EASIER WITH THIS #1 HACK

♦  WHY CREATING A CHARACTER BIO ISN’T A GREAT STARTING POINT: And What to Do Instead If You Want to Create Screenplay Characters That Feel Like Real People

9 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.

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