LESSON The Protagonists's theory of Flawed Characters

Discussion in 'DEVELOPING CHARACTERS & CULTURES' started by Protagonist, Feb 27, 2015.

  1. So, as we know, a character without flaws is a bad character.
    Typically, the reason why is that "a character without flaws is unrelatable". I actually have an alternative theory:

    Characters without flaws tend to be bland and predictable.

    For example: Everybody knows that Luke Skywalker isn't going to turn to the dark side. However, we don't know if Han will come back to save Luke in an emergency. There's some suspense going on with it.
    Though, this isn't to say that Luke is a bad character, he has his own faults.

    Keep in mind, though, that, according to my theory, people don't like your character for their flaws, but rather, for their moral triumphs over their faults.
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  2. Ahem. Luke Skywalker did turn to the dark side in the canon Extended Universe.
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  3. Well, thanks for spoiling star wars 7 for me.
  4. Fixed.
  5. I think this also applies to characters who do have flaws, but are way overpowered. Consider Neo in the Matrix (sequels more than the first one), the fight scenes are bland as ass because you already know the result. Neo will kick asses and walk away; there's no way he can realistically lose. It's neat to watch because of the acrobatics and special effects, but it's not suspenseful at all.

    It's the same when you have a character whose power and abilities outweigh their flaws far too much for the flaws to even be relevant most of the time. Watching them attempt any challenge is boring because you already know they will succeed. granted, the reverse (a character who is so underpowered they can't do hardly anything) is also true, but is seen far less often.
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  6. In RPs, this is can be an even more horrendous thing to deal with. One of the reasons why other people in RPs HATE these characters is because they are impossible to interact with in any meaningful way. More often than not, they want their character to be the spotlight (though sometimes this happens by accident simply by virtue of being flawless). They take over and dominate whatever scene they're in and that is irritating as hell. No one like this type of character, because it severely downplays their own characters' contributions to a scene. A flawless character will somehow resolve whatever problem they have, be it a battle or a social dilemma and it makes the other characters look downright ineffectual. There's no real struggle, and just as normal stories where this happens are boring, RPs where this happens are exponentially more boring and a waste of time for the other players.

    I know full well how awful it can be. I used to be that guy. I was that guy who wrote really OP/flawless characters for a world RP, and every story revolved completely around them. I recently went back and read some of them and I cringed at pretty much every scene they were in. Oh there were struggles for them... sometimes... but even then, none of the other characters there were really responsible for winning the day, it was just my characters. It's no surprise the other RPers had their characters wander off to do their own thing in nearly every instance. They had no way of contributing to what was happening, though they tried. Bless their souls they tried.

    DON'T BE LIKE THAT! It's awful and no one besides the person doing it enjoys it. I thank God I'm not like that anymore.
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  7. I have a similar principle for physical might as well. In general, the audience should be wondering "how is he going to win this?" (He doesn't necessarily need to be wondering if, however). An overpowered character can solve most problems through the most obvious means. A "badass" solves most of his problems through some sort of creativity.

    A good example: This is why people tend to call Superman "OP" where as Batman is considered "Badass". Superman is so bulletproof that he can solve most problems by "flying into a target, and then punching them". Batman, on the other hand, is not nearly as bulletproof, and is forced to use his creativity to solve problems.
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  8. I'd like to add a third thing.

    Perfect Characters prevent growth.
    The whole point of a story and RP is to have a story, a plot with obstacles to overcome and improve from.

    You can't get that from perfect characters because there's nothing else to learn or grow from.
    Nah. Disney went ahead and dismissed anything that wasn't in the 6 movies the fucking disloyal bastards spawned from hell it is mumble grumble.
    Superman is so dull and uninteresting for me because of this.
    Hell I once had someone try to convince me that superman was an interesting character with flaws by basically going "Superman's flaw is that he's so powerful he needs to control it!".

    I mean seriously? If a characters only flaw is that he has no flaw... you got yourselves a bland/uninteresting Mary Sue.
  9. Well, think about what superman represents. He is supposed to be invincible. His flaw is the limits placed by society around him. Superman is basically a message to minorities and immigrants that they could be so much more if they rise above those limits(literally limitless). At least that was the original intent when he was first designed, sometimes he is just there to punch stuff.

    I know in my case, I have a challenge regarding this topic. When playing characters who happen to be elites, characters who really are gifted, recognizing areas for character growth can be a lot harder. In one of my RPs, I play Yurika, a genius with an IQ of over 300 who is obsessed with magic girls. Playing this character has proved a challenge not because she isn't flawed, but because these types of characters are flawed in very different ways. Yurika isn't going to struggle with a lack of understanding, and much of the story has actually been about learning to use her talents responsibly.

    I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that what makes a character a sue is not their position in respect to other characters, but instead their own personal growth. It is a terrible thing to watch a character who does not grow in an RP environment. Growth and discovery is simply a huge part of this medium. So, even when playing characters that are significantly more able than the rest of the cast, make sure to take a moment to make sure that this character's ability does not get in the way of their growth. People love cheering for characters that struggle to improve, no matter how powerful they already are.
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  10. I like this idea of stagnation being the issue and not so much identifiability. We don't always identify with our characters, and that's why some roleplayers like to write nefarious villain characters that are totally devoid of any commonplace human morality.

    For me, however, I'm not even sure that predictability is necessarily the issue so much as the metagame involved in such a character — I'll specify that here I mean metagame in the literal sense of the game outside of the game, which is to say the emotions and behaviors of the writers towards each other through their characters. I can appreciate an honest-to-goodness in-canon OP character "if done right". But the more I've thought on this matter, the more I've noticed that it's not as if the roleplayer is necessarily doing something teachable and definite that I can really say gives their character more dynamics.

    There's a huge difference between a character who has been written for the author's self-glorification and a character that exists as an element of a story. When a roleplayer becomes fixated on the concept of winning, it's glaringly obvious (and we sometimes call it main character syndrome, it's so common) that they have no significant interest in the story or anybody else's characters or ideas or opinions. They just want to beat up the rebellious peons, save the princess, and call it a day. Everybody else can just be fallible or whatever it is those other people do.

    Then you've got a character who's just bonafide OP, like Superman, or genuinely perfect, like a lot of strong secondary characters are in more idealistic media. These are not unilaterally boring characters because they are written for other reasons. I think my biggest point is that character development is not always about overcoming fallacies. It's an underdog arc and that's only one out of a million different ways to write a character and I think the fact that it's been proliferated as the only way to avoid a Mary Sue has significantly diminished a lot of potentially valuable character concepts. Remember those squares they taught you in elementary literature? Man versus Self, Man versus Society, Man versus Man, and so on? We've basically labelled anybody writing a character who isn't part of a Man versus Self arc to be an uncreative roleplayer by saying perfect characters are not interesting.

    Okay, let me reel back — woah, Sammy, that's some paradoxically rebellious/not-really-news stuff you're proposing there. Man versus Self is a very natural story because it's one we identify with the strongest; we all experience the empathy gap, and so it's harder for us to process stories that go beyond ourselves. Thus our creativity flows through the path of least resistance and we end up with a lot of tropes that stick to this idea of internal flaws.

    I don't know; my mental articulation just dropped about there, but I think I got enough of the point out to get the idea across. o.O
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  11. Well, this is an interesting point, but I think some of it is less effective in an RPing environment. The reason why people write about the Man vs Self conflict while RPing so often is because that is the domain which the RPer has perfect control. It is hard to make a character that specifically and exclusively has conflict in an uncontrollable element. It is cool to have these elements when possible, but it requires a lot of forethought, as well as communication with the GM. It happens less because it is much more involved.

    That being said, I love this line. "character development is not always about overcoming fallacies." This is such a good way to summarize what I attempted to communicate earlier. I'd really love to see this kind of thought entering the discussion of the sue and the overpowered more often. Sometimes the need for a character to be flawed or balanced overshadows the much more important need for characters to be a value-add to the story.
    #11 ☆Luna☆, Mar 27, 2015
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2015
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  12. For me, the idea of trying to control the element breaks the whole point of the Man versus Society or Man versus Man devices — if we had control over the Society or the other Man, there wouldn't be a conflict. Being out of control is the entire basis of such a plot, and that's something I think should be more popular, even in roleplaying.

    Thanks, though, Luna. <3
  13. Well, maybe control isn't the right word... I'm trying to communicate something that I could better describe through an example.

    It is hard to design a character whose main conflict will be social discrimination when it is not clearly identified to be a goal of an RP. The player simply cannot know that it will exist without interaction between them and the person in control of the larger plot. While it is true that the character shouldn't have much control, to deliver an effective message, it is helpful for the writer to be aware of the ways in which their character will be tested to highlight the significance of the conflict both in how it relates to the story and character in tandem.

    Does that clarify my position?
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  14. I think so.

    Naturally, creating such a plot requires special collaboration with the storyteller and other writers which we don't normally engage in because our characters are fairly autonomous. But to write such an arc into the character — of course with the pre-existing elements of the setting in mind — seems to me to be a very engaging thing to do. I suppose it depends on the roleplay itself, namely whether there is enough canon to go off of or if the author is willing to accept more liberal amounts of self-determination by the other writers.

    I don't want to derail the thread, though; perhaps there's something to discuss about how free a roleplay ought to be...
  15. I can agree with that.
    Growth and development is what makes good characters, even if the flaws shown are unusual.
    I don't have issues with someone who is gifted or beyond the norm, you sometimes needs characters like that.

    But in regards to superman with the only real flaw he has (other than green rocks) being that he is too powerful?
    That doesn't really make him interesting to me, regardless of the original intentions of what he was made for (and regardless as to if I agree with said intentions).

    Perhaps part of the issue I have with it though is that this (to my knowledge) was only addressed once.
    Superman has not been shown as a character constantly walking around with the curse of always being at risk of destroying things.
    He has always been portrayed as a heroic, flawless superman. It seemed to be a one episode plot point to score "Look at Superman's problems" bit, and then dropped and forgotten.
    That doesn't really get across interesting development of a gifted person for me, it just comes across as a mary sue trying to make people feel bad for them.
  16. That is likely because that is exactly what it was. Superman's ethics really don't make sense given his experiences. Me is oftentimes perfect for perfect's sake. But, I think this is stretching into the realm of off topic, so lets just leave it at that.
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  17. Yea we kind of are.
    We have a tendency of doing that don't we? XD
  18. With some of my characters, this is the way I try to approach the whole OP thing. One time, I was in an RP where others dived into a battle, picking a side without even knowing the reason for the battle. While my two characters in this RP, who could have "easily" kicked major butt, simply sat it out, exactly because they didn't know anything about the combatants and the reason for their fight... couldn't rightfully pick a side, not knowing who was "right" or who was "wrong." I don't know whether you'd consider that a value-addition to the story, but it did point out the "values" of my characters in relation to what was happening in the storyline.

    What's that saying? Power comes with responsibility, or something of that sort. A character could have power, but choose not to use it, because their morals/values affect how they react to situations. Or they could choose to use their power for different things... consider their "gifts" a simple (or not so simple) tool. And like any tool, a power may be useful for some tasks and not for others. In other words, you don't use a hammer to turn a screw.
  19. Well, yes, that would be an example. The existence of powerful character who must grapple with the idea that their power is equally capable of creating great good or terrible evil is a classic example of Man vs Self.

    Just as easily however, you could play a powerful character acts irresponsibly and learns the terrible consequences of their choices. Maybe they go in guns blazing, kick some enemy butt, and in doing so incite fear, overdependentcy, or something else in the people they intended to serve.

    As I said before, so long as there is growth in the character and that growth is significant to the overall story, you are doing good.
  20. I'd say it all boils down, indeed, to growth... but it's important to remember "growth" can happen in any direction, including backwards. What's more important than growth is simply change. Be that positive, negative, or off the deep end... heh.

    Unless the whole point of a character is their stability, while everyone else is going bonkers. So to speak.