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Robert McKee on character development in storytelling: Finding a character’s flaw

Storytelling master Robert McKee shared how he thinks about finding a characters inner flaw. Giving your main characters a flaw, even if it’s the protagonist and hero of the story, is key to making the character more relatable and believable. You give your character dimension through contradiction. (Otherwise, you end up with ridiculously dumb characters like the kind you find in Wonderwoman 1984).

His advice is simple: Look for

Step 1: Define what a flaw is? Now obvious, a flaw is a negative trait, but you want to be more specific here. One example is a person that’s unable to love—that’s an obvious flaw. But another example of a flaw is a person that loves so fully, so completely, and so easily that it renders them unable to live a productive life. That too can be a flaw. Which is why you want to define the nature of the flaw in the context of your story.

Step 2: List the positive qualities of your character. And then look at each of these qualities and ask yourself: What’s the opposite of that? For example, if the character is very intelligent and smart, then ask yourself: In what are of their life do they behave really stupid? What’s their blindspot? No matter what their IQ is, this one thing they just don’t understand and can’t quite wrap their head around. Name that. That can be your characters flaw.

Now this doesn’t work for every character and every positive quality, but when you make the list of positive qualities, and their opposites, you will come across some where you find they really could be in the nature of this character.

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