Morning, RU crew! We’re fortunate to have Laurie Schnebly Campbell join us once again to talk about character development. This time, she’ll tell us why our story hero shouldn’t be perfect and how we can effectively rub some dirt on him. Welcome, Laurie!
It’s always such fun to be with people who love writing — and reading!
A few weeks ago a writer friend asked me why her hero NEEDED a fatal flaw. Wouldn’t an ordinary flaw be good enough?
And I realized that it’s misleading to call these flaws fatal…because how often, at least in a happy-ending book, does the hero wind up dead?
(Okay, we won’t count the gorgeous vampires.)
But unless we’re writing about James Bond or someone else where the action matters more than the character, every single person we write about will have some kind of flaw.
SPEAKING OF MOTIVATION…
The fact is, virtually everyone — in fiction as well as in real life — is doing the best they can with what they’ve got.
A serial killer? Yep. A cheating spouse? Yep. A compulsive spender? Yep.
As writers, we can make those people every bit as easy to understand as the tax-paying, lawn-mowing, child-loving characters. (Maybe they’re one and the same.)
That doesn’t surprise anyone who knows that even the darkest villains have some plausible motivation for whatever they do.
It’s only natural. After all, none of us ever does ANYthing without a reason.
(If you just crossed your legs, you had a reason: your body was uncomfortable in the old position. If you move to Antarctica, you have a reason: maybe you got a job there, or someone you love got a job there and you’d rather be with this person in Antarctica than without them somewhere else. We don’t always think about our reasons for whatever we do, but no matter what we do, there’s a reason.)
So every character, just like every real-life person, is doing whatever they think will work best for them at this point in their life. Holing up in an ivory tower. Partying all night. Nurturing everyone they can get their hands on. Worrying about terrorism. Everyone picks what seems like the best way of getting along in the world.
And what they pick is a clue to their personality type. Which, again, is something that EVERYONE has.
We don’t care much about the cabbie who drives our hero to the train station, so that cabbie doesn’t need any special personality type or motivation…nor any fatal flaws. He doesn’t need to overcome any problems in his life or his personality.
But every major character has to overcome something in order to evolve during the course of the book. And that’s why we writers need to know our characters’ fatal flaws.
FINDING A FATAL FLAW
It’s handy that enneagram theorists have already identified a flaw for each of the nine personality types. “Ennea” (ANY-uh) is the Greek word for nine, and enneagrams are handy for counselors and personnel managers who want to understand the people they’re dealing with. Which makes them handy for writers as well!
Of course each type has its own special strengths as well as its own particular weakness. And our characters — just like all of us — manage to overcome their flaws most of the time.
But stress can bring out the worst in people. Yet we already know that stress, or conflict, is what keeps a story interesting. So our characters are going to come up against situations that reveal the worst of their flaws…which will give them the opportunity for a triumphant change.
No matter which type they are.
Each type’s name gives a clue to their strength, and their flaw is what happens when that strength is taken to extremes:
- Perfectionist One: Anger when they (or anything else) isn’t perfect
- Nurturer Two: Pride in being needed by everyone around them
- Achiever Three: Deception to keep up their outstanding facade
- Romantic Four: Envy because other’s lives seem MORE glorious
- Observer Five: Avarice for more privacy and greater knowledge
- Skeptic Six: Fear of possible danger to their loved ones (or self)
- Adventurer Seven: Gluttony for every possible new experience
- Leader Eight: Lust for power, to be in control of their surroundings
- Peacemaker Nine: Sloth, keeping life comfortable and decision-free
See the possibilities? That’s only the beginning!
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN…
I’ve talked enough, here, but if there’s anything you’d like to know about your characters or their types — or the types of anyone else in your life — I’ll be checking back for questions all day.
And anyone who speaks up will go into an end-of-the-day drawing to win free registration to one of my upcoming classes. So I’m rolling up my sleeves and hoping like crazy I won’t be the only person at the party today!
Laurie, who’d love it if you already KNOW your own (or your character’s) enneagram type — what is it?
RU Crew, stop by Monday for our Young Adult sub-genre segment with author Simone Elkeles and librarian Amy Alessio.
Laurie Schnebly Campbell, who beat out Nora Roberts for “Best Special Edition of the Year,” writes about finding a character’s most heroic traits and balancing those with traits that’ll create conflict…not only BETWEEN credible characters, but also WITHIN them. Apart from what’s covered in her character-building book, she’s teaching more about enneagrams online this fall — and you can see her workshops at www.BookLaurie.com.
- CTW: His Personality Ladder by Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- M is for – Motivation with Laurie Schnebly
- Challenging Couples in Love
- Mental Health Spa with Laurie Schnebly Campbell
- Ask An Editor: “The Meet” between Your Hero and Heroine