Shannon Dittemore is the author of the Angel Eyes trilogy. She has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. Her lifelong journey to combine the two is responsible for a stint at Portland Bible College, performances with local theater companies, and a love of all things literary. When she isn’t writing, she spends her days with her husband, Matt, imagining things unseen and chasing their two children around their home in Northern California. To connect with Shan, check out her website, FB, Twitter, Instagram, or Pinterest.
I've been doing a little thinking, friends. Perhaps we can think together.
Have you ever considered giving your lead character a tragic flaw?
The term tragic flaw most often refers to a failure on behalf of a story's protagonist. The failure can be a character flaw, or an action, or maybe even an area of ignorance. Whatever it is, this flaw leads to a tragic outcome.
All characters have flaws but not every flaw leads to a full-blown tragedy. That said, many times we read to the end of the story, are appropriately mortified by the outcome and though we're a thinking person, we still can't identify just what it was that started the character down this road. This is the aspect of the topic I've been chewing on.
We'd all raise our hands and give some sort of answer.
"A flair for the dramatic."
To this day, I have no idea what the correct answer is or if there even is a correct answer. What I do remember are the discussions, the arguments for and against, the details we covered while dissecting the idea of a tragic flaw. I remember learning about the character of Hamlet because we dared to ask the question: What was his tragic flaw?
For the record, I did Google that very question and found several articles that identified Hamlet's tragic flaw as a multitude of different failures. And so! I've come to the conclusion that it matters little if we can pinpoint the flaw with perfect accuracy (tell your English teachers that!). What does matter is that we understand Hamlet's flaw led to a tragic ending in Denmark.
If Hamlet had handled things differently--if he had confronted Claudius right away, if he'd had him assassinated, if he'd chosen to ignore the ghost of his father--the massacre at the end could have been avoided.
Of course, there'd be no story. Certainly not one as brilliant as the play Shakespeare penned.
And so I ask you again, have you ever considered giving your lead character a tragic flaw? How would this affect your tale?
What if your character's curiosity isn't just a playful attribute? What if, like Alice, curiosity leads her down a rabbit hole she spends the rest of the story trying to escape from?
What if your character's inaction leads to the loss of his freedom?
What if fear of offending others costs your character her life?
What if you give your character a minor flaw, like a hot temper, and let it crop up throughout the story? What happens then? Can you use this flaw to bring about tragedy? Can you use this flaw to move your story forward?
Right about now, you might be thinking that you don't want to write a tragedy. And I get that. I do. Just remember that a story's not really a story if there aren't problems and while you may decide not to give your character a tragic flaw in the purest sense, it's always worth it to chew on the idea of letting your main character foil his own plans from time to time.
We can do that by building flaws into our characters and seeing where they take us or we can address the issue from a resolution standpoint. If you know your ending (lucky duck!), stop for a minute and think. How can a flaw in my main character lead to this moment? How early can I introduce the flaw and how does it change my plot?
Like I said, this is a topic I've been chewing on. It's not something I have figured out and while I think speaking intelligently about such things has value, I'm more interested in how this tool can be of use to you and me and help us move our stories forward.
So, let's talk. What comes to mind when you read the phrase tragic flaw? Do you think of stories you've read or characters you're building? Do you have questions? I don't have all the answers, but a hearty discussion is always fun. Talk to me, friends.