“Well, nobody’s perfect.”
Classic last line of Some Like it Hot
“In story terms, the main character’s persona is plagued with a flaw, and as this flaw is tested throughout the story, the main character integrates a greater understanding of overcoming the flaw through the lessons of life that are expressed by the story.”
Screenwriting is Storytelling
The world recently learned that the great golfer Tiger Woods is not perfect. And if you read this post in a few months or a few years just fill in the blank…The world (or your local community) recently discovered that ____ ____ is not perfect. The news of imperfection—of character flaws—still makes the news. Always has, always will.
Character flaws in movies are not always spelled out as clear as they are in The Wizard of Oz, but it’s hard not to have a flawed character in a film because the cornerstone of drama is conflict. Flaws can be external and/or internal so they offer ample room for conflict.
I don’t need to explain a character flaw so I’ll just give you a list of some key flaws in some well-known movies. As you’ll see both protagonists and antagonists have flaws. The major difference tends to be the protagonist/hero generally must overcome his or her flaw for growth, whereas the antagonist are usually defeated due to their great flaw. (But even in tragic endings where lessons are not learned and character is not changed in the hero, and where evil not defeated (Death of a Salesman, Chinatown, Citizen Kane, Scarface), there is a warning shot felt in the heart of the viewer.
“Greek classical drama frequently afflicted the hero with a blind spot that prevented that character from seeing the error of his or her ways. This strategy still shows in films that range from character studies (What’s Love Got to Do with It), to epics (The Bridge on the River Kwai), to action stories (Jurassic Park).”
The following list is not a conclusive list of flaws, just some of the most common ones that you’ll recognize when you get together with family this holiday season.
Zack Mayo, An Officer & a Gentleman
Maverick, Top Gun
Paul Newman character, The Verdict
Sandra Bullock character,28 Days
Nicolas Cage character, Leaving Las Vegas
Don Birnam, The Lost Weekend
Darth Vader, Star Wars
Gordon Gekko & Budd Fox, Wall St.
Jim Carrey character, Liar! Liar!
Denzel Washington character, Training Day
John Nash, A Beautiful Mind
Norman Bates, Psycho
Captain Queeg/ The Caine Mutiny
Blanche Dubois, A Streetcar Named Desire
Colonel Kurtz, Apocalypse Now
Glenn Close character/ Fatal Attraction
A Place in the Sun
Jack Nicholson character, As Good as it Gets
Meg Ryan character, When Harry Met Sally
Tom Hanks character, Castaway
Flaws, by the way, are one of the chief dilemmas that both philosophy and religion have struggled to answer for at least the last few millenniums. Where do flaws come from and what do we do with them? The central question being if man (as in mankind) is born good as some believe then why is everyone and every civilization since, uh—the beginning of time— so messed up? And if we’re born with original sin as other believe then what are the ramifications of that? I’m pretty sure we can agree on one thing, this is one messed up world with a whole cast of real life flawed characters.
We’re all trying to figure out why we’re wired the way we’re wired. And we go to the movies to get a piece of the puzzle. And the side benefit to writing great flawed characters is the audience not only identifies with the character, but actors love to to play flawed characters. Writing great flawed characters tend to be appreciated at the box office and at award time. It’s a win-win situation.
Who are some of your favorite flawed characters?
P.S. Marc Scott Zicree The Writer’s Wrench calls character flaws, “The hurt that needs healed.” Zicree also wrote The Twilight Zone Companion and Rod Serling understood a lot about writing about character flaws.
Scott W. Smith
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