Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Does Your Character Have Six Things That Need Fixing?

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms. She writes weird books for teens in lots of weird genres like, fantasy (Blood of Kings trilogy), science fiction (Replication), and dystopian (The Safe Lands trilogy). Find Jill on FacebookTwitterPinterest, or on her author website.

In screenwriting, the "set-up" of a movie usually happens in the first ten pages of a script. This is where the writer must hook the reader. The set-up should show who the main character is, what's at stake in this tale, and give the story goal. If you can, it's also important to introduce your main players during the set-up.  

This is also where the writer will show how the main character is flawed, so that these areas can be overcome by the end of the story. In Blake Snyder's awesome screenwriting book, Save the Cat, he shares a phrase he invented for these flaws that will be overcome. He calls them: Six Things That Need Fixing.

Does he mean six exactly? No. But this is a list of things that you will show your hero overcoming during the course of the story. In movies, these things are first shown in the set-up, then, through the movie, we see them again and again, often causing mayhem.

You can come up with a list of character flaws or problems in a number of ways. Take into account your character’s life in the past (backstory), present (story situation), and future (story goals/life goals). Take into account what’s at stake in the story—what is he risking? And take into account his attributes and behaviors (looks, friends, habits, quirks, hobbies, personality, and lifestyle).

Here are some examples from two movies I love. I tried to find Six Things That Need Fixing about each character and show you how those things were turned around by the end of the movie.

In the movie Miss Congeniality, Gracie Hart is just one of the guys. She is 1. nerdly, 2. socially awkward, 3. has no manners, 4. has no real friends, 5. is considered ugly by the men in her life, and 6. is a klutz.

In the movie we see hysterical and sad scenes that display these attributes. We see the guys at the precinct make fun on her. We see her eating alone at home. We see her snort when she laughs. We see that she can’t walk in high heels. We see her trip and drop things.

But as the movie goes on, we see her transform. This wasn’t her idea—at first. It was all for the case, which is really the only reason she’d submit to such ministrations. And this is brilliant storytelling because her desire to do her job forces her to do something she would never do: get all pretty and join a beauty pageant.

And so we see how beautiful she really is. We see her learn manners and grace. We see her make real friends, and we even see the men in her life start to take notice—turns out she’s female! Who knew?

In the movie Home Alone, young Kevin McAllister is the runt of the family. He is 1. too little, 2. helpless, 3. hates his family, 4. gullible, 5. annoying, 6. afraid of the furnace in the basement.

In the movie we see how his family treats him. We see his uncle tell him he’s too little to watch the scary movie. We see his brother call him names like trout sniffer and pretend to barf up the last piece of cheese pizza. We see his sister Linnie tell him that he’s completely helpless—what the French call les incompetents. We see him fall for his brother’s story about Old Man Marley killing people, we see him pester his mother, and we see his fear of the furnace.

But as the movie rolls, we see him face his fears. At first he thinks he got his wish, and he sets off to do all the things he wanted like eat junk for dinner, watch the scary movie, jump on his parents’ bed, use his dad's shaving lotion, and look through his brother’s private things.

But as time goes on, he transforms. We see him tell that furnace to “shut up.” We see him do laundry, go shopping, and cook meals. He learns that Old Man Marley is a nice guy, makes friends with him, and gives him advice. We see him missing his family and wishing them back. And he also protects his home from those dastardly burglars too.

You can use this same technique in your storytelling. Give your character Six Things That Need Fixing. Show us those things at the start of the story. Where is your character in his journey? Then show us how he starts to face those issues head on and become the hero he needs to be.

Does your protagonist have Six Things That Need Fixing? Name some.


  1. Thanks for the post! I never seen this before, so this is helpful.
    Home Alone is a classic!

  2. My protagonist needs to move on from the past, stop seeking revenge, realize that he is strong, stop relying on others, believe in himself, and embrace who he was born to be.

  3. I love this, Jill! I'll be mulling this over all afternoon :)

    1. Thanks, Steph! It always looks so great when you see those types of examples above. But it does take a lot of mulling to come up with such a list and all the payoffs. I'll be mulling myself soon.

  4. Oooh! This is awesome! Let's see if I can name 6 things to fix:
    scared of the future, afraid of deep relationships, wishful that her past would have been different, has low highs and really low lows, is too daring in her hopes, and often misjudges people.
    I'm going to put this on a sticky note where I can always see it! :)

    1. Nice list! And good idea with the sticky note. :-)

  5. This is so neat! My MC one: needs to realize that she doesn't always have to take care of others, two: that being taken care of is okay, three: that friendship is beneficial, four: that believing in the impossible is great, five: that romance isn't a waste of time, and six: that she is unique.

  6. This is really great! I've figured out my character's lie and what she needs to learn by the end of the story, but I love the idea of splitting her development into six things that need fixing. It makes the concept seem more attainable. Thanks for the tip :)

  7. Let's see if I can do this.

    Elric's Six Things That Need Fixing. 1. No one thinks he can be king. 2. He fears his father. 3. He doubts himself. A LOT. 4. He isn't very good with weapons. 5. Socially awkward. 6. Makes the perfect candidate for kidnapping for ransom. (I'm not sure if these are very good, but they were what I could come up with at this late hour. :P)

  8. great post. my MC is 1. socially awkward 2. believes she's a freak 3. is scared to get close to anyone 4. has a hard time trusting people 5. hates her father 6. gets motion sick really easily

  9. My MC is 1. Not caring for other people, 2. Selfish, 3. Lives for the day, 4. Does not return friendship, 5. Holds on to wrongs that others have committed, 6. Does not help willingly

  10. This was a great post! My character is 1. scared of getting close to people. 2. not trusting. 3. a bit selfish, thinking more of his own feelings and not considering others' as much. 4. believes he's an ugly freak. 5. holds too tightly to his past. 6. needs to believe that love has power and that he can be loved.

  11. This was very helpful! It really helped me flesh out my MC!

    My MC is: 1. afraid of change (a.k.a. leaving his home), 2. doesn't know his past (that is affecting his throughout), 3. has conflicting feelings about the 'new girl', 4. doesn't want to get involved (scared of the government and their plans), 5. is 14 (too young for people to trust his judgement) & 6. has no battle experience (he's a baker).