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How Fatal Should Flaws Be? Laurie Schnebly Campbell

Posted By Carrie Spencer On January 2, 2014 @ 12:06 am In Craft of Writing,Laurie Schnebly Campbell | 100 Comments

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I’ve learned so much from Laurie Schnebly Campbell over the years – and here’s a bit more to tuck into my brain – the Fatal Flaw. If you haven’t taken a writing class with Laurie [2], you don’t know what you’re missing out on!

How Fatal Should Flaws Be?

You already know the answer to that, right? We don’t want our characters dropping dead in Chapter Two because of some fatal flaw — unless one of them happens to be a murder victim who needs to die horribly for the sake of the plot.

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In which case, it’s smart to give those minor characters (as well as any villains) some truly fatal flaw.

But we can’t stop there.

image003We need to give those exact SAME flaws to our MAIN characters…and then watch ‘em struggle.

If that prospect delights you, skip the next few paragraphs. If you cringe at the thought of your beloved hero and heroine suffering, here’s some advice:

Make ‘em Suffer

As pleasurable as it may be to envision perfect people whose lives are full of happiness, that doesn’t add up to a very compelling book. Most of us, just like most of our readers, know that life can be painful and difficult at times…and that every once in a while, we behave in some image005less-than-heroic way.

A character who wants to lose ten pounds but can’t resist the post-workout snack?

A character who knows there’s no reason to envy Older Brother but does so anyway? A character who lacks the self-confidence to speak up about some uncomfortable issue? We can relate to people like them.

So watching their fatal flaws (such as gluttony, or envy, or fear) get them in trouble confirms what we know about life. And that makes it all the more rewarding, all the more uplifting and thrilling and just plain satisfying, to see them overcome those traits in time to bring about their happy ending.image007

What Kind of Flaw?

Those of you who already know about Enneagram theory (ennea, pronounced ANY-uh, is the Greek word for nine) will remember how each personality type has its own unique strength…which, taken to excess, can also be a weakness.

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For example, let’s use those three characters mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Someone dealing with the flaw of gluttony will have problems setting limits on whatever they enjoy, but will also be a fabulous entertainer and adventurer with friends who look forward to this person’s company.

image011Someone dealing with envy will notice tempting little details most people never see, which makes them better at creative pursuits, more passionate about life in general, and more aware of (and upset by) what they’re missing.

Someone dealing with fear will always know where to find the nearest fire extinguisher, and be great at keeping people on their side with humor in case they need help, yet have a hard time relaxing and enjoying the moment.

And so on.

How do these fatal flaws play into your story?

That’s the subject of a four-week class starting on Monday, but here’s the very short version.image013

Building Flawed Characters

image015We already know perfect people don’t make very good stories. That’s why Superman had to be geeky in his Clark Kent persona, so while we rooted for him to save the world we could also sympathize with him getting tongue-tied in front of the girl he loved.

That’s why a character who’s rich and gorgeous and smart and lovable also needs some hidden weakness, so we can reassure ourselves that way deep down this person isn’t all that different from us.

image017But if we take this character and say “hmm, okay, I’ll make my otherwise perfect hero afraid of snakes, and my otherwise perfect heroine worry too much about her hair” — you already know that won’t do the job, right?

Whatever keeps this person from being Less Than Ideal In Every Respect as of page 1 can’t just be a random vice that gets slapped onto ‘em during the character assembly line. It has to be woven so deeply into their personality that readers take it for granted.

Random vs Realistic

Indiana Jones fearing snakes, for instance, was a cute gimmick. But it doesn’t give us anything to work with in terms of developing his character.image019

Fearing failure, though? That’s a whole different ballgame. That’s going to keep readers intrigued as this character goes through all kinds of gyrations trying to avoid failure — work around the clock, bargain, skip the contest altogether, cheat, charm or threaten voters, offer a treasure, seduce the judge, you name it.

And this is great because every ONE of those steps makes the plot even more exciting, more entertaining, more tumultuous. These aren’t just random events; they’re all stemming from the character’s flaw of fearing failure and the tied-in determination to succeed.

image021Which is a good trait in (for example) a woman struggling to win votes for women, or a sea captain determined to get his crew home safely, or a student who can’t leave home without a scholarship. We’ll root for people like those.

But we also want to see them suffer. And suffering which comes from the fatal flaw built right into their personality?

There’s nothing better than that.

So Here’s a Question for You

In a character you’re reading or writing about now, can you spot some heroic trait (which will also have a down-side, although you don’t need to mention it) OR some personality flaw which they’ll need to overcome?

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Share that good or bad trait here, and if we get at least 30 such comments somebody will win free registration to “The Fatal Flaw That’ll Make Your Book Shine” as of tonight.

Laurie, glad my computer on the year’s first workday will have something fun to read!

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Join us on Friday, January 3rd when Heather Webb presents Character Motivation Part Two—Discerning Motivation, Actions, and Goals.

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Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves starting the new year with a brand new class, for people who’ve never heard of fatal flaws and for people who’ve read her book or taken her previous workshop on enneagrams. For details, see “The Fatal Flaw That’ll Make Your Book Shine” at groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/FatalFlaw/ [3] Along with teaching new workshops every month and writing for an ad agency, she’s published half a dozen romances (including one that won “Best Special Edition of the Year” over Nora Roberts) plus a how-to for fiction writers on creating believable characters.

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100 Comments To "How Fatal Should Flaws Be? Laurie Schnebly Campbell"

#1 Comment By Rowan Worth On January 2, 2014 @ 12:24 am

Great to see this!! I always have issues balancing the flaws. I like independent heroines–and that’s the easiest flaw to flip, because they hate taking help from ANYBODY. Instant conflict. The “I can stand on my own two feet” can quickly sink into “I’ve failed if I accept any help at all from anyone”–admirable, as long as she’s not up to her neck in quicksand, refusing an outstretched hand.

#2 Comment By Adite Banerjie On January 2, 2014 @ 3:46 am

Hi Laurie. Happy 2014. Wonderful post as usual. I’m presently reading a book in which the heroine’s fatal flaw is that she suffers from an inferiority complex and thinks no one likes her because she is not as smart and beautiful as her older sister. As a result she dresses provocatively and acts in a needy way! At times her actions seem over-the-top and a complete turn-off. Any advice on how not to turn off the reader?

#3 Comment By Natalie Melvin On January 2, 2014 @ 4:07 am

Couldn’t agree more, Laurie. To have a flaw, or some handicap is to be perfectly human. We make mistakes and do wrong things. We don’t know why we do it, we feel awful, and we feel guilty. This is how we relate to a character and identify with him as the audience, whether we want to feel better about ourselves or believe that our own life is not that bad after all. The protagonist needs to learn about himself and so do readers. There are more insides to it, and I am looking forward to another class with you.

#4 Comment By Debora Dale On January 2, 2014 @ 6:57 am

Great advice and insight, Laurie!

I’m working on a novella – it’s book three in a trilogy – and when I first started plotting it, I did so very loosely. I figured, it was only a novella, surely I didn’t need to put as much forethought into it as for a novel. Ha. Eventually, I went back through some workshop notes and found your Fatal Flaw lectures and realized my heroine’s pride is her fatal flaw.

The element was already there, but I’m now using it properly. Her pride keeps her from crumbling when we would otherwise expect her to, but it also gets her into trouble in those instances when she should be humble or accepting. She’s relied so much on her pride (sometimes false pride) to get her through terrible situations that she doesn’t even realize it’s become a hindrance.

I am definitely making her suffer and am suffering for her but that suffering will make her success at the end that much sweeter. It wouldn’t work so well without focusing on the fatal flaw.

#5 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 7:03 am

Rowan, your heroines have a fabulous strength/flaw combination for romantic suspense — talk about a perfect setup for internal AND external conflict! And seeing her finally accept the outstretched hand when she’s up to her neck in quicksand creates a much more triumphant ending than if she’d never had any problem depending on others.

#6 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 7:05 am

Adite, good question about how to avoid turning off the reader when the heroine is behaving in a way that seems short-sighted. Showing her doing OTHER things at the same time, which are not only clear-sighted but also kind / generous / wise / etc, will prove she’s (way deep down) the kind of character we want to spend time with even if she IS off base in that one area!

#7 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 7:07 am

Natalie, it’ll be great having you in the class! You’re right on target in spotting how often we all do things that are just flat-out wrong…even though sometimes we DO know why we did ‘em, which still doesn’t make the behavior any better. My favorite saying about guilt is that “it allows us to continue doing something wrong while still feeling like a good person.” :)

#8 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 7:11 am

Debora, way to go on using the fatal flaw all the way through the book — sounds like you’ve totally nailed that, making the most of her strength AND weakness at the same time. Your line about how she’s relied so much on her pride to get through tough situations that she doesn’t even realize it’s a hindrance is wonderful…a perfect summary of how to make the most of fatal flaws.

#9 Comment By Adite Banerjie On January 2, 2014 @ 7:14 am

That’s great advice, Laurie. Will definitely keep it in mind. Thanks! :)

#10 Comment By Luanna / Grace On January 2, 2014 @ 8:56 am

Hi Laurie! (waving from a very snowy Maine) The hero of my historical WIP doesn’t feel “good enough” or worthy of his good fortune, and definitely not deserving of the love of Lady A, given his illegitimate birth and his criminal past. And yet he’s the first to forgive the misdeeds of others. He’s not going to get his HEA until he realizes the circumstances of his birth are not his fault, and that he’s more than made up for the mistakes of his youth. Discovering who his father is seriously messes with his head, hehe.

#11 Comment By Margie Hall On January 2, 2014 @ 8:59 am

Thank you Laurie! I have a tendency of overdoing the flaws, which can border on TSTL (too stupid to live) or that in RL they would be in therapy 3 to 5 days a week. It is truly important to walk that tightrope of interesting without overkill. I will always consider myself fortunate to have found you as an instructor and hope that you will continue to teach and blog! Thank you :)

#12 Comment By Jillian Lark On January 2, 2014 @ 9:03 am

Hi, Laurie! Aren’t the fatal flaw and the lesson the character needs to learn the same or at least related? Maybe my dust bunnies have invaded my brain, and I should sign up for your class. All the rest were fantastic!

#13 Comment By Ginger Calem On January 2, 2014 @ 9:05 am

Laurie, I always learn from you! Great post. It’s so hard to make our beloved characters flawed but it sure does make them more interesting.

In my current WiP, my character has a fatal flaw of fear of failure and of letting down her family. And she is under immense pressure from her family to do what is right and not fail. The combination wrecks havoc on my poor teen.

I do love watching her discover her strengths and believe in herself … eventually. :)

#14 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:10 am

Luanna, wow, this hero sounds intriguing — his ability to forgive others yet not himself makes me wonder if he might have a problem with pride? In effect, “others deserve forgiveness because they’re weak and fallible, but I hold myself to a higher standard than everyone else.” Not sure if that’s the case with him, but it’s a fascinating possibility!

#15 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:11 am

Margie, I love your abbreviations of TSTL and RL — those are great! And you’re right about what a tricky balance it can be, maintaining interest without going over the top (although some readers say you can’t GET too far over the top, which is all just a matter of taste). Anyway, it’s always nice seeing you in a class or blog…good luck with the WIP. :)

#16 Comment By Emma Leigh Reed On January 2, 2014 @ 9:28 am

Hi Laurie, Love your classes and this particular class I have never taken. Am working on a sequel and now trying to make my heroine redeemable….hopefully she can overcome her fatal flaw.

#17 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:33 am

Jillian, you’re absolutely right that the fatal flaw and the needed lesson are related — what makes the story entertaining is how much turmoil the character/s go through before finally learning that lesson! Of course at the same time they’re helped by the great strength that’s the flip-side of their fatal flaw; otherwise it would be all bad with no good…but striking the balance is what makes reading (and writing) such fun.

#18 Comment By Carol Opalinski On January 2, 2014 @ 9:35 am

I’m not sure how to label my hero’s flaw. Pride maybe? He is a strong leader and this has come in handy in his military career and in battle. But not so good when it came to dealing with the heroine. While in Afghanistan, he broke up with her. He told her it was “for her own good, she’s too young, blah, blah, blah.” It’s not until the end that he realizes he did it because he was scared of returning to her a broken man. I don’t know if that’s enough of a flaw to sustain a complete ms.

#19 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:35 am

Ginger, you’ve got a VERY sympathetic character there…poor heroine has no idea what a tough struggle she’s up against! Now I’m hoping you’ll find time to keep up with her story while teaching your wonderful Writers Butt class at WriterUniv.com — and wishing it weren’t the same time as mine, because I need your advice after a very self-indulgent Christmas vacation. :)

#20 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:38 am

Emma, don’t think you missed anything by not having taken this class — I’ve never offered it before; it’s a brand new one! What do you wanna bet that your heroine WILL manage to overcome her fatal flaw…unless, of course, she’s starring in an ongoing series in which she’ll overcome just a bit of it in each successive book. Which is every bit as intriguing to watch.

#21 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:40 am

Carol, it sounds to me like his fear of being anything less than Perfect is a wonderful (and very plausible) fatal flaw. He might be a Leader who dreads vulnerability because he’s used to being in control, or an Achiever who dreads failure because he’s used to being loved for his perfect image, or a Guardian who dreads the loss of security because he’s conditioned to fight or flee whatever he fears…all kinds of cool possibilities there!

#22 Comment By Michael Mock On January 2, 2014 @ 9:45 am

That’s an interesting question. I’m currently working on a sword-and-sorcery story with a father-daughter pair as the main characters (and the daughter as the narrator).

The dad’s flaw is easy: he essentially never lets his guard down.

The daughter’s motivation is pretty clear; she’s grown up traveling constantly, so her idea of a friend is someone she sees for a week or so every two or three years. She’d like the chance to stop and really get to know a few people over the long term. (This, of course, sets her up for some conflict with her overprotective father, who believes that the only way for them to remain safe is to keep moving.)

But… her flaw? She’s friendly, helpful, easy to have around – she knows how to get along with people, at least in the short term. What she doesn’t know how to do is rely on them over the long term; when a problem comes up, she generally has to either solve it herself, or it gets left unresolved when they move on. Asking for help? Not so much. Letting anyone other than her father pitch in, even if they’re willing? Not so much that, either. Real intimacy is pretty much foreign to her experience.

#23 Comment By Liz Muñoz On January 2, 2014 @ 9:49 am

I love the fatal flaw– I think it is a great way to give characters life… one of my heroes’ fatal flaws is Envy… he Envy’s his brother and therefore begins to have issues with his heroine… My hero’s brother’s fatal flaw is that he has a devil-may-carry attitude– which is an attractive flaw to females but a fatal flaw when he dates, as he appears uncaring.

I would love to take your class, I think you are and awesome teacher and author.
Thanks for the Blog

#24 Comment By Lois Faye Dyer On January 2, 2014 @ 9:54 am

I struggle with this very thing, Laurie – mostly because I want everyone to be “nice” and thus, run out of plot after 2 chapters. :)
In the book I’m currently working on, the Hero has been badly injured and is forced to give up the career he’s worked on since he was a child, and as an adult, he’s the best in the world at what he does. He’s cranky, brooding , facing life changes he hates.
The Heroine, on the other hand, has survived her own life crises and reached a good place with her life. She’s smart, savvy, and grounded.
So, the biggest problem I have with these two (and it’s the difficulty I often have) — is why would this smart, stable woman hook up with a guy with so many problems??
How can I keep her (Heroine) from seeming too-stupid-to-live??

(and I’m off to sign-up for this class – I love your classes!! :)

~Lois

#25 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:03 am

Michael, it sounds like your heroine would get along beautifully with Rowan’s from the very first post of the day — independence and intimacy sure DON’T go hand in hand. And what makes it even tougher for her is that the only person she’s ever been able to know & trust for the long term is the very one who’s keeping her (no matter how good his intentions) from knowing or trusting anyone. So she’s all set up for a wonderful internal conflict, and it sounds like a safe bet there’ll be plenty of external conflict as well!

#26 Comment By Liz Muñoz On January 2, 2014 @ 10:05 am

I just realized my question did not show up on the previous post…for my Heroes’ brother, what would his fatal flaw be called and how can I balance it so that the character is not “disliked” as he is a great character … he is just a womanizer and is extremely unapologetic…

#27 Comment By Charlotte Raby On January 2, 2014 @ 10:06 am

Hey Laurie! Great blog post! I always get a new perspective every time I read your lessons, which helps me internalize it deeper each time1 Thank you! I have a couple of WIPs and in one, the heroine unconsciously always attaches herself to a male protector, believeing deep down that she can’t take care of herself. In the other WIP, which is a YA, I’ve just realized I need to deepen her flaw. It’s sort of a coming of age story in which she believes she’s the only one who sees the danger of a situation and therefore must be the one to resolve the conflict. I’m still evoling my thoughts on it, I suppose.

#28 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:07 am

Liz, it sounds like each brother has a fabulous strength (creative passion for the Envy one, enthusiastic joy from the no-commitment one) which makes them each an appealing guy to spend time with. And which, you’re right, will provide all kinds of turmoil if either of them comes anywhere near a genuine relationship…because that’s the point at which their great weakness will threaten to overshadow their best feature. Gotta love that drama. :)

#29 Comment By Lori Schafer On January 2, 2014 @ 10:08 am

The main character in my current novel – a romantic comedy – suffers from fear of commitment. (It’s a threesome story in which she ends up falling in love with a pair of young men, so I thought this was an amusing flaw to give her!) The upside is that she’s fiercely independent and entirely self-sufficient, and she retains those traits whether she has men in her life or not. Although I didn’t think consciously about structuring her personality in the manner you describe, it seems to have worked well for the book, and I will definitely keep your advice in mind for my future novels!

#30 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:12 am

Lois, as someone who’s loved your books for a long time I’m amazed that you tend to run out of plot after two chapters — it never shows up that way in the finished product! But as for why this savvy heroine likes the troubled hero, we know that way-deep-down they’re each other’s soul mate. :) On the surface, she might enjoy being needed, or see in him a problem that she’s never acknowledged within herself but still wants fixed. There sure could be some other reason than those off-the-cuff ones, so it’ll be fun to work on in class!

#31 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:13 am

Oops, I should’ve kept reading — sounds like the fear-of-commitment brother’s fatal flaw might be Gluttony, because he enjoys having more fun / more adventure / more women / more wine and dancing and so on. Does that sound like him?

#32 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:18 am

Charlotte, this may change as your thoughts continue evolving…but I suspect the coming-of-age heroine who believes only SHE can see the danger & resolve the conflict might be suffering from the fatal flaw of pride (in being necessary to those around her or the entire world) or anger (at having to make things right because others are incapable) or fear (of anything that MIGHT go wrong) or the determination to always be in control… All kinds of possibilities, huh?

#33 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:20 am

Lori, it’s wonderful when a character rings true in terms of personality with a naturally matching flaw and strength…whether or not you built that in consciously, you know her well enough to automatically make her a realistic, plausible person. Which is probably half the battle of writing a great book; with the other half making sure the plot works. Whew!

#34 Comment By Stephanie Berget On January 2, 2014 @ 10:25 am

Hi, Laurie. The hero in my WIP had a terrible childhood and now, as an adult, he’s terrified of getting close to anyone. He also avoids conflict whenever he can (or course, he can’t).
Thanks for the information. I’m going back to see if I can clarify his fatal flaw.

#35 Comment By Roz Fox On January 2, 2014 @ 10:36 am

Laurie, I still have the notes from when you gave this workshop to our writer’s group. So many great points to think about as we formulate our characters. The more real we make them, the more flawed they are. LOL

#36 Comment By Liz Muñoz On January 2, 2014 @ 10:44 am

Wow, that’s totally him… Thank you for clarifying it for me… :)

#37 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:48 am

Stephanie, it sounds like he might be a Peacemaker who’ll do whatever it takes to get along without making waves…he’ll be pleasant and friendly to everyone, but NOBODY is gonna get close to him. They’ll view him as a nice guy who’s easy to get along with, and only those who want a closer relationship will realize that he never puts his whole self out there — all they’re getting is his cheerful, cooperative facade. Although, admittedly, that’s only ONE of the possibilities!

#38 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 10:50 am

Roz, there’s some real history there — I remember the workshop you’re talking about, and it DID include some of what’s in this month’s new class. Saving your notes all those years is impressive; I always vow when I hear a good lecture that I’m going to keep track of all the points and then somehow never manage to put the pages in an organized place…so you deserve major credit for managing to DO that. :)

#39 Comment By Mary Jo Burke On January 2, 2014 @ 11:21 am

Hi Laurie,

In my current WIP, the heroine is an alcoholic. I’ve been told that is too depressing. Is there a realistic flaw too taboo for fiction?

Mary Jo

#40 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 11:41 am

Mary Jo, it depends almost entirely on where you’re planning to publish the book. There certainly can be alcoholic heroines, same as there can be heroines with just about every other kind of flaw or disease or problem…what makes readers like them and root for them is that they have SOME wonderful traits along with the ones which get ‘em in trouble. With Harlequin Romance, I once had to change my hero from an alcoholic to a workaholic but it worked fine…and yet Wally Lamb just published a book where one of the main characters is a child molester, so pretty much anything goes as long as it’s a good read!

#41 Comment By Natalie J. Damschroder On January 2, 2014 @ 11:53 am

I’m between books right now, so I don’t have a character to name a flaw for, but Rowan and Margie took my “usuals.” :) I struggle with not letting the heroine’s fatal flaw make her unlikable.

My biggest problem, really, is not identifying this BEFORE I start writing. I make things way too hard on myself by waiting until I get 2/3 of the way through the book before I figure it out. :) I think I’m going to take this class!

#42 Comment By Althea West On January 2, 2014 @ 11:56 am

Great discussion about character. I like the idea that a characteristic can have both an upside and a downside. For example the hero in one of my books is ambitious which makes him a successful baseball player. But it also makes him ignore the people who love him because he is so focused on winning. I paired that with the opposite quality in my heroine. She was ambitious but her ambition led to her ignoring her brother and exacerbated his mental illness. Now she is the opposite–a sort of martyr who will sacrifice her own happiness to help him. I’d love to take your class and see if I’m doing this characterization thing correctly.

#43 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 12:00 pm

Natalie, between books is a great place to be when you’ve just released one as exciting as Sunroper! And, boy, I know what you mean about realizing 2/3 of the way through that the character isn’t really nailed down quite yet — she might be too nice, she might be too unsympathetic, or she might be a blend of great strengths and troublesome flaws that don’t quite add up. Starting with that decision already made might be a VERY handy thing…not that you don’t already have fabulous books. :)

#44 Comment By Vicky Burkholder On January 2, 2014 @ 12:01 pm

In my current WIP, my heroine has a nasty temper. Now that may not sound like a flaw, but she’s a supernatural and when she gets really angry, lightning tends to strike around her. Or fire flare up. So she has to figure out how to rein it in. Unfortunately, that’s easier than it sounds, esp. when the hero comes on board and challenges her equilibrium.

#45 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 12:03 pm

Althea, it sounds like you’re using the strength/flaw combinations beautifully — letting each person have a wonderful, admirable trait that (taken a bit too far) winds up getting them in trouble. Sounds like the heroine hasn’t REALLY changed, way deep down; she was originally ambitious to succeed at whatever and now she’s ambitious to succeed at Helping Brother. So she’ll have some of the same lessons to learn as the hero, which is an appealing setup!

#46 Comment By Judy Migliori On January 2, 2014 @ 12:04 pm

In my current WIP my heroine, an older widow who is grieving the loss of her adult son, can’t live without the presence of her only grandchild so she moves to the same town her former daughter in law moved to but her presence is causing problems with the new relationship her daughter in law is in. My heroine thinks her former daughter in law is moving too fast and her choice of man isn’t going to work out good for her. So is her fatal flaw not being able to move on when she needs to?

#47 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 12:07 pm

Oh, Vicky, I’d swear you were reading over my shoulder yesterday — I was just revising one of the class lectures that uses an example of characters who get upset and shoot lightning bolts! What are the odds, huh? :) So it sounds like your heroine has a great struggle ahead, because reining in high emotion (which is a natural outgrowth of being challenged) is made even tougher when she’s already flummoxed by the hero.

#48 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 12:11 pm

Judy, that could very well be her fatal flaw — she’s trying to make things right for other people without considering that what’s right for HER isn’t necessarily what’s right for THEM. And she’s doing it with the best intentions in the world; she loves her d-i-l and grandchild and wants the best for them. That loving care is her great strength, and also (when it leads to false pride or control or martyrdom or getting stuck) her great weakness…a nice setup!

#49 Comment By Judy Migliori On January 2, 2014 @ 12:37 pm

Wow Laurie, thanks so much for the reply. Now I’m going to go back and ready all your other articles for writers.

#50 Comment By Jen Sako On January 2, 2014 @ 12:39 pm

My problem with flaws in my characters is either they are inexplicably cruel or too light. I need to work on some moderation. I like your words on flaws needing to be organic. I understand that completely and will remember it as I work. Thanks!

#51 Comment By Janet Ch On January 2, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

“In a character you’re reading or writing about now, can you spot some heroic trait (which will also have a down-side”

Hi Laurie. I love using fatal flaws to build a plot. My heroine believes happiness comes from making other people happy, from being generous and caring — and she just loves being needed. (heroic trait)
The downside is she’s a people pleaser, very dependant on other people’s reactions to her. She doesn’t feel worthy unless she’s sacrificing and doesn’t trust anyone to love her for her self. Needs to trust that people will like her just for being her and to see that constantly fulfilling other people’s needs at the expense of her own is exhausting her and can never make her truly happy.

#52 Comment By Marie Tuhart On January 2, 2014 @ 12:47 pm

Happy New Year. Great post, Laurie. I always use your fatal flaw class notes when I create new characters it is so helpful and this blog helps reinforce it. Have a great day.

#53 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 12:59 pm

Sounds like fun, Judy — happy reading!

#54 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 1:02 pm

Jen, “organic” is a great word — I wish I’d thought of that one! Moderation is another good pick; it can be tempting to avoid ANY moderation because we keep hearing “be bold, go over the top, make this absolutely incredible” while rarely hearing “take a step back, don’t go too far.” And yet some writers need to be bolder, while others need to scale back…it can be tough finding the right balance. (Although, come to think of it, nobody ever said writing was easy. :) )

#55 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 1:05 pm

Janet, this sounds like a VERY plausible heroine — we all know people (especially women, it seems like) who drive themselves into exhaustion trying to do everything they can for their loved ones. When men do that same thing, it usually results in workaholic behavior, but women can do it at work OR at home, so it seems like they suffer from that situation far more often!

#56 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

Marie, it’s lovely to think my class notes have contributed to new characters like Jake and Beth in More Than One Night, or Michael and Kelsey in Silver Screen Dom — that’s wonderful to hear. I think you were one of the first people in my original fatal flaws workshop way-back-when on AskAnAuthorPro, and I’d hate to think we’re old enough for that to have been such a long time ago. But of course we’re really not… :)

#57 Comment By Rowan Worth On January 2, 2014 @ 2:26 pm

Love your responses to people–such helpful information!! A good reminder on how to balance the flaws to keep the characters likeable, too. THANKS.

#58 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 2:30 pm

Rowan, I’m so glad you’re finding it helpful! I always figure anybody who takes the time to comment on a blog deserves a personal response, but it’s a nice bonus when those responses strike a chord with other writers as well. :)

#59 Comment By Anna Labno On January 2, 2014 @ 2:43 pm

Thank you for such a great post.

#60 Comment By Naomi Phillips On January 2, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

I like the idea of my character’s strong point also being their weak point. The heroine I am writing now thinks nobody cares about her since her husband left and her kids are grown up, but she has to learn she can stand on her own. If her fatal flaw is lack of independence, what is her strength?

#61 Comment By Angie Sargenti On January 2, 2014 @ 2:51 pm

In the YA novel I’m working on, the lead character’s flaws are having a very bad temper, a crusading instinct, and an unrealistic streak (She’s 14.) These things together cause her to get into all kinds of difficulties.

#62 Comment By Heidi Hormel On January 2, 2014 @ 2:55 pm

I’ve noticed that a lot of my hero/heorines tend to have the same fatal flaw! That darned subconscious at work. My current hero is “Dr. Control Freak” — he’s found so many ways for that heroic and necessary (in certain situations) characteristic to cause him and his heroine a stack of trouble!

#63 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 2:57 pm

Naomi, try thinking in terms of her fatal flaw not being an ABSENCE of something, but rather a PRESENCE of something. For instance, maybe she’s dependent. Maybe she’s afraid of being alone. Maybe she craves being needed. Each of those has an upside as well as a downside…she’s engaged in relationships with people she cares about; she’s good company in almost any situation; she wants to make others happy and comfortable. So with all those strengths, it’ll be hard for her to feel like nobody cares — and she’ll need to learn that caring for HERSELF has to come first!

#64 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 3:00 pm

Angie, it sounds like you’ve got a wonderfully typical 14-year-old…readers will have an easy time identifying with all her flaws! At the same time, they’ll be eager to see her strengths — the crusading instinct shows she cares about justice and protecting others; the bad temper shows she doesn’t fear emotion or disapproval; the unrealistic streak shows she can think outside the box. So it’ll be fun stacking up the pros & cons from both sides of the same coin.

#65 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 3:02 pm

Heidi, I love your hero’s nickname…that’s vivid. And craving control can be a fabulous strength because there are times when the world NEEDS someone to take control, so anytime he does that he’s the Good Guy. While of course there are also times when he comes across as the Bad Guy because he’s still telling everyone else what to do — and I’d be willing to bet he has serious issues with vulnerability. Does that sound like him?

#66 Comment By Larry Schnebly On January 2, 2014 @ 3:15 pm

You sound like a counselor/psychologist as well as a writer! Such sound advice ! Thank you for the insights!

#67 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 3:36 pm

Aw, gotta love a father who’s supportive enough to show up on a romance writing website just to be there for his daughter. Thanks, Dad!

#68 Comment By Jackie On January 2, 2014 @ 3:53 pm

Today’s post is truly helpful. Thanks.

I know my heroine’s “fatal flaw” but not my hero’s.

Thanks again!

#69 Comment By Carrie Spencer On January 2, 2014 @ 3:56 pm

Afternoon Laurie!

The book I’m reading now – the heroine will do anything for her friends…and gets into deep trouble doing so. I’m not quite sure how else to describe her flaw exactly!

I struggle with the fatal flaw I think more than anything else…I can always see the flaw, I just can’t always see the “good” side of it!

Great post as always!

carrie

#70 Comment By Heidi Hormel On January 2, 2014 @ 4:02 pm

Hi Laurie,

He definitely hides his “softer” side, despite being a pediatric surgeon … and finds himself in big trouble with his independent cowgirl heroine!

#71 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 4:15 pm

Jackie, it’s great you already know your heroine’s flaw — if the hero is still taking shape, you might want to consider giving him one that’s exactly the opposite. Or if he’s already taken shape and has some other possible flaws, that’ll work perfectly well too. I’m glad the post was helpful; that’s great to know!

#72 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 4:18 pm

Carrie, you have such likable characters that I wouldn’t worry too much about the upside of the flaw coming clear for you right away. It’s a glass-half-full kind of thing, but pretty much everyone STARTS perceiving it one way or the other and it can be tough to perceive it the other way around. (My engineer son has a T-shirt I love, which says “The glass is twice as big as it needs to be.) :)

#73 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 4:20 pm

Oh, yeah, definitely trouble ahead for these two. Mwa-ha-ha… :)

#74 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 5:15 pm

Anna, you’re very welcome! It’s always such a treat hanging out at Romance University; people come in with some of the best questions and comments that are all kinds of fun to think about…and I keep seeing glimmers of books I want to go read as soon as they’re finished. Which, ahem, is not such a good thing for my New Year’s resolution to spend less. Uh-oh!

#75 Comment By Natalie J. Damschroder On January 2, 2014 @ 6:14 pm

*blushes*

You say the sweetest things!

#76 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 6:30 pm

I’m about to go offline for a few hours and narrate at Recording For The Blind, but it’s wonderful that we already have more than 30 comments so there’ll definitely be a prize drawing for free registration to “The Fatal Flaw That’ll Make Your Book Shine.”

Can’t wait to check in about three hours from now and see who’ll be in the class on Monday!

(Although because it’s such short notice, I’ll have random-dot-org draw an alternate name too in case the first winner doesn’t reply by this weekend.)

Laurie, fantasizing that there won’t be much to narrate tonight…

#77 Comment By Haley Whitehall On January 2, 2014 @ 6:52 pm

Without a flaw the character would be perfect and perfection is boring. It is overcoming the flaw that shows the character growth in the story.

One of my problems is balancing the flaws between the hero and heroine in a romance. Often I tend to give one a lot more flaws than the other. In one of my current WIPs my hero still needs a fatal flaw. He can’t be Mr. Perfect.

Still thinking…

#78 Comment By Tanya On January 2, 2014 @ 8:35 pm

Thank you for the blog today.

In the book I am reading, the hero is afraid of talking to the heroine about what he’s feeling about what’s happening to his father for fear of looking like a weakling. The heroine is afraid to love again because her first husband mentally abused her.

In the book I am writing the hero has an apartment of unpacked boxes because he never wants to stay in one place very long. The heroine returned home when she found out she was pregnant but has never started living again after the baby’s father rejected her.

Happy New Year. Thanks for making me think about the flaws and how the story develops because of them.

#79 Comment By Mimi Barbour On January 2, 2014 @ 9:03 pm

Oh Laurie – you are a harrrddd-hearted woman!! Beating up on all those poor characters who never did anything to you but exist. Trying to get us authors to create them to be exciting, realistic and even attractive in their flaws that those poor readers will get so involved they won’t be able to stop reading. Diabolical :-)))

#80 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:11 pm

Haley, I like your description of how the current hero is still Mr. Perfect — it’ll be fun seeing what can go wrong with him so he’ll be a more even match for the heroine. Although I guess in the long-ago days of romance, readers were FINE with perfect heroes: rich, kind, handsome, but (maybe, just maybe) reluctant to fall in love. Hmm, maybe a thread there…

#81 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:14 pm

Tanya, great job of analyzing the flaws for both your reading and writing characters! Your WIP hero sounds like a dashing, charming, very engaging fellow as long as nobody expects him to stick to any commitments, and the heroine sounds like his exact opposite because she’s so desperate for security she won’t let herself take even the slightest risk. Seeing how they affect each other will be very cool. :)

#82 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:17 pm

Mimi, now I’m starting to feel REALLY guilty — you’re right on every count; how can I possibly justify doing such horrible things? Any chance you could send one of your Angels (Cheeky, Lovable, Devious, whichever) to bestow the gift of fogiveness…or are they still too busy entertaining readers? :)

#83 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 2, 2014 @ 9:48 pm

Wow, you Romance University readers have been a VERY impressive group — I was telling Carrie how much fun it is to hang out here with people who ask such great questions and offer such insightful comments!

For those of you who are joining the January class, I’m really looking forward to Monday. :)

Meanwhile, congratulations to our random-dot-org winner, #22, Judy Migliori — just let me know by Saturday (Book Laurie at yahoo dot com) what email address you’d like to use and I’ll send your yahoogroups invitation.

Thanks to everybody who’s posted, here or privately…it’s been a really fun day, and if anyone has any other questions or observations I’ll enjoy checking in again tomorrow!

Laurie, off to bed hoping for wonderfully romantic-happy-ending dreams in which nobody has ANY fatal flaws

#84 Comment By Carrie Spencer On January 2, 2014 @ 10:55 pm

Thanks for posting with us Laurie – and congratulations Judy! You’ll love the class!

=)

carrie

#85 Comment By Terri L. Austin On January 3, 2014 @ 8:39 am

Great post. I love a good flawed character–esp. the tortured hero.

#86 Comment By Judy Migliori On January 3, 2014 @ 10:58 am

Oh my gosh Laurie,
Yes I am thrilled to accept the invitation to your class. My email address is [10]. Is (Book Laurie at yahoo dot com) the email address I should use to reach you instead of this post? I’m so looking forward to Monday!!!!!

From – Judy Migliori
[10]

#87 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 3, 2014 @ 3:04 pm

Judy, no worries, this way works fine as well — your class invitation from Yahoogroups is on the way! And you’ll recognize some familiar names from THIS blog if you’ve been reading other people’s comments…it’s always fun to be in a class with people you’ve already seen. :)

#88 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 3, 2014 @ 3:10 pm

Terri, there’s sure something about a tortured hero that’s hard to resist…after all, why couldn’t WE be the woman to provide him with the love that will magically restore him to utter perfection? Heck, we tend to do that with whatever man we’re dating or marrying anyway!

#89 Comment By Becke Martin Davis On January 4, 2014 @ 12:15 am

This is one of those posts I wish I could download directly to my brain. I bookmarked it, which is a start. Now I have to REMEMBER it all. Thank you so much! And Happy New Year, too.

#90 Comment By Benson Masambah On January 4, 2014 @ 6:51 am

Laurie, I have personally enjoyed your post. It’s true a character is a human being and is prone to err. Weaknesses are inervitable. This is what makes him/her real and believable. Perfection is not for humans but God.

The struggle that character encounter makes them worth the drama they play. Indeed it keeps readers thrilled and anticipating what befalls this particular heroine.

I have trully learnt.

#91 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 4, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

Beckie, I love your idea of downloading directly to the brain — wouldn’t that be a wonderful thing? I’d never again have to scribble notes on whatever’s handy as I read something fabulous, and later wonder what the heck BECAME of those notes anyway. Glad you thought of bookmarking; that’s something which never occurred to me!

#92 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 4, 2014 @ 12:09 pm

Benson, your line about “Perfection is not for humans but God” is wonderful — I’m going to remember that for a long time. Because it’s so tempting to make our characters perfect (or, hmm, to wish my husband and friends and even _I_ were) when in fact that’s not too likely, even with God creating us in his own image. Great food for thought; thanks!

#93 Comment By Janet Ch On January 4, 2014 @ 1:53 pm

Hi again Laurie,

Quoting from the top of this page:”Laurie Schnebly Campbell loves starting the new year with a brand new class, for people who’ve never heard of fatal flaws and for people who’ve read her book or taken her previous workshop on enneagrams.”

Will quite a lot of the lessons be very similar to previous workshops on character flaws/enneagrams or is this class all new stuff?

Thanks

#94 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 4, 2014 @ 2:53 pm

Janet, that’s a great question — I’d say about 25% of the class will be familiar to people who took “Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw” or read my enneagram book. The rest will be new, focusing more on the fatal flaws and matching strengths for the main characters in either your current book or one you’ll write later. And “later” MIGHT mean the master class which is coming in February. :)

#95 Comment By Janet Ch On January 4, 2014 @ 4:19 pm

Thank you Laurie.
If I already know the fatal flaws for my hero and heroine and their matching strengths, will the class help me use those flaws to build a plot? I can see all the main turning points in my story and feel they will work, but the bits in between are giving me trouble! (Those smaller steps on their arcs)
Wondering if your class would kick-start some ideas for linking everything together.

#96 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 4, 2014 @ 11:29 pm

Janet, if you already know the characters’ flaws & strengths, you’ll have a MUCH easier time picking out the incidents that contribute to a cohesive (and full-of-turmoil) plot. We’ll do the actual beginning-to-end construction of that plot in the Flaw2 master class during February, but January is a prerequisite to make sure all the are lined up. Just like in Plotting Via Motivation & From Plot To Finish, which I think you did a few years ago, it’s the same kind of two-step process here.

#97 Comment By Shay On January 7, 2014 @ 8:13 pm

I’m sorry, but I just had a great chuckle at this. There is nothing that gets to me more than coming up with a brilliant, novel idea, then having someone say, “That’s just like this other book I read!” (That *just* happened to me two days ago.) I know, I know. There’s nothing new under the sea… but we all want to think that our inspiration was unique. ;-)

#98 Comment By Shay On January 7, 2014 @ 8:22 pm

My hero has lost every woman that he’s ever been close to, so he has a huge fear of loss. This makes him overbearing and controlling. He also makes rash choices (all in his new love’s best interest) that don’t always work out so well. Toward the end, when he realizes that he’s led her into a completely hopeless situation, he has a total nervous breakdown.

My heroine has never depended on another person in her life and despises being ‘directed’. The only way that the two work at all is that she’s also a patient optimist. She understands why he’s neurotic and she loves him, but he still sets her back teeth on edge from time-to-time.

Her mistake is that she believes that he’ll eventually relax. “He’ll change.” Over time, she realizes that the closer they get, the deeper his fear, and the worse he’s going to behave. She has to decide whether or not to accept that aspect of who he is.

#99 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 8, 2014 @ 2:03 pm

Shay, this sounds like a turbulent relationship with room for all KINDS of drama. I’m betting his fatal flaw, way deep down, is fear…he’s determined to fight it rather than flee, but at the end when all his fighting hasn’t worked he winds up in flight mode instead. Which might awaken her pride in being needed — yet at the same time she IS a strong nurturer and he IS fabulous at looking out for danger. Drama City!

#100 Comment By Laurie Schnebly Campbell On January 8, 2014 @ 2:05 pm

Okay, “nothing new under the sea” is new to ME — I’ve always head “nothing new under the sun!”


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[4] Creating Your Hero’s Fatal Flaw: http://romanceuniversity.org/2010/08/27/creating-your-heros-fatal-flaw/

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[6] CTW: His Personality Ladder by Laurie Schnebly Campbell: http://romanceuniversity.org/2010/06/25/ctw-his-personality-ladder-by-laurie-schnebly-campbell/

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