Monday, 28 November 2016

SCREENWRITING FUNDAMENTALS #19 FINDING YOUR HERO'S FLAW

At the heart of every good story is a drama.

At the heart of every good drama is a journey. 

A satisfying journey results in a change in your hero. 

The change in your hero stems from their flaw.

So, in essence, every good story relies on the hero being flawed.

When your hero isn't flawed, then there is no INNER journey.

They can go through an amazing external journey, but all that external shenanigans are really nothing more than spectacle. 

To create an emotional connection between your film and your audience you must give them a hero they can identify with. 

The best way to do this is by giving your hero a flaw.

Now that can be easier said than done. 

How do you figure out what your hero's flaw is?

Typically, you decide your hero's flaw BEFORE you start writing.

Why?

Because you can use the hero's flaw to guide the journey of the story. 

But what if you get half way through and realize that the flaw you decided on for your hero isn’t the right flaw? 

What if you have been manufacturing scenes to tie in with your hero's flaw but those scenes have pushed the story in a direction you don't like, or didn't intend to happen?

I've personally experienced this with my writing.   

Many times I've finished writing a first draft, looked at where the hero’s flaw has taken the story and I realized it wasn’t the story I set out to write, it wasn't the journey I wanted my hero to go on. 

That's ok.

Go back and re-write. 

But re-writing from page 1 is tiresome. 

What if there was a way I could find the hero's flaw that best suits the story without having to write in a flawed flaw in the first draft. 

There is a way...

REVERSE ENGINEER YOUR HERO'S FLAW.

What the hell do you mean by that?

Glad you asked...

Start by doing a rough structure of your film. 

You've got a basic understanding of the Hero's Journey and you use this to etch out the major beats in your story.

BUT DON'T WRITE IN A FLAW YET.

This rough outline should be roughly 5-10 pages long.

Ok, first step done.

Now flesh out that basic structure into more detailed scenes.

Don't get caught up fine tuning each scene, just layer in more information on top of that first structure you created.

Ok, so now you should have a document that's roughly 30-40 pages long. 

You should have a really good idea of the journey you want your hero to go on. 

Now this is where you can reverse engineer your hero's flaw.

WHAT IS THE JOURNEY THAT YOUR HERO IS FORCED TO GO ON?

Whatever the personality traits your hero needs to achieve the goal at the end of the film should be the personality traits they are LACKING at the start of the film.

To use a real life example…

I'm writing a story where a young mother must ultimately believe in herself and stand up for herself and her daughter. 

They are the personality traits she needs to survive the ordeal of the film and to defeat the shadow. 

Now that I know where she needs to end up, I now know where she needs to have come from at the start of the film.

I know she needs to believe in herself by the end of the film...

So I...

... make it that she doesn't believe in herself at the start of the film, she lacks self-confidence.

She also needs to stand up for herself and fight for herself by the end of the film...

So I...

...show her not standing up for herself and not fighting for herself at the start of the film. 

Before I did this process, I was toying with serval different flaws for my hero.

None of them seemed to fit.

I decided to write the story without a definitive flaw for my hero and see the journey that she would have to go on. 

Remember...

...the one thing your hero doesn't want to do - should be where the story takes them.

While we're talking about flaws... 

...I'd just like to clarify what a flaw is.

A flaw is NOT just a negative personality trait.

It is more nuanced than that.

A negative personality trait could be that someone is a chain smoker. There's nothing positive about being a chain smoker. 

BUT...

... if that chain smoker just happens to live in a place where everyone else are chain smokers and no one minds them chain smoking - that negative personality trait is NOT a flaw. 

Why?

Because a flaw is something that stops your hero from achieving their full potential.

A flaw holds your hero back.

Look at the film JAWS.

You ask anyone what sheriff Brody's flaw is in that film and the majority of people will say that he's afraid of water.

While it is true that he is afraid of water, it's not a flaw as his life is not impeded by being afraid of water.

His job as sheriff and his day to day life doesn't require that he be able to swim. 

NOW - if he was a surf-life-saver and he was afraid of water then that personality trait is a flaw because it affects his ability to perform his job.

What is Brody's flaw in Jaws?

Glad you asked...

... Brody's flaw is that he's irresponsible.

What?

What are you talking about?

When we first meet Brody's son he has a cut hand because Brody has failed to fix the swings.

Later on, he says to his wife and kids, don't play on something else (precisely what eludes me at the moment), I haven't fixed it yet.

Twice we see that Brody has failed to do something that he is supposed to do.

Then later, he KNOWS that there is a man eating shark feeding in the waters around Amity Island – but none the less, he capitulates to the pressures of the mayor and allows the beaches to be left open.

Consequently, a young boy is eaten by the shark because Brody failed to be responsible. 

He failed to do his job, which is to be responsible for the safety of the Islanders. 

Brody's journey from there on takes him on one of responsibility. 

He has to be become responsible for the safety of the whole island. 

THE TAKEAWAY...

Go to a script that you have started to outline.

Don't worry about writing in a flaw for your hero right away.

Flesh out the story without a flaw until you have a really detailed outline - aim for around the 30-40-page mark.

Now that you know where the journey will take your hero, now you know what it is they need to do to survive the ordeal and defeat the shadow, reverse engineer and create your hero's flaw by taking away those personality traits from your hero at the start of the film. 

Congratulations!

You've just reverse engineered your hero's flaw.