Y’all know what hamartia is, correct?
If not, I’ve provided the Wikipedia link… Hamartia, or otherwise known as a character’s tragic flaw is a great way to get your Protagonist to change.
By identifying your Protagonist’s tragic flaw UP FRONT, you can very easily figure out where he or she needs to go to bring about that change.
Of course, it shouldn’t be an easy task… After all, we all perform maintenance of our “HAMARTIA” don’t we? Do we not consciously or unconsciously maintain our tragic flaw by way of our:
- People we associate with
And, if this is true, could we not utilize this same model for our Protagonist?
A Protagonist’s tragic flaw is actually more like his or her ego defense mechanism. In the beginning of the story and through approximately the third quarter of a story, the Protagonist continually relies on this tragic flaw to get as far as he or she has gotten. Up to this point however, whether they are aware of the flaw or not, they think they need it to get through the day. Consciously or unconsciously…
Work it correctly and natural conflict — conflict that you need for your story should be almost obvious during every scene if you keep yourself aware of your Protagonist’s tragic flaw.
I get a lot of screenwriters asking me how to create change in their Protagonist or… DARE I SAY IT…
The Character Arc.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and I don’t really care if anyone agrees with me or not… I like a Protagonist that changes during the story and I submit that change does happen… Maybe in microcosm ways but I THINK IT HAPPENS.
Because if change didn’t happen, what would be the point of the story? Why would we care? But I’m not really trying to talk about change as much as I’m attempting to discuss the Protagonist’s MAINTENANCE OF THE TRAGIC FLAW.
That’s what your Protagonist does. He or she utilizes pretty much the same elements we all utilize to maintain our tragic flaws…
Not necessarily in that order but you get the gist.
Your Protagonist’s ordinary world is made up of the above elements is it not? Why is this his or her ordinary world? It’s not unlike a criminal running away from the law… He hides out because he doesn’t want to get caught, right?
So does your tragic flaw. Of course it rears its nasty head at the drop of a hat but rest assured, it’s lurking… Waiting for something to trigger its need or use.
And just like a criminal finds someone to assist in hiding him out, so do we assist our tragic flaw in hiding out… To keep it safe and sound until we need it again. In other words, to kick this tragic flaw out into the light means — dare I say it again — CHANGE.
And really… Overall… Does anyone really want to change?
Or do they hide out in their ordinary world because they can control their ordinary world much better than any new world that is placed in front of them?
So of course maintenance of the flaw is of the utmost importance… Your Protagonist chose the environment he or she lives in so that his or her tragic flaw can thrive. Your protagonist continually places themselves in circumstances where their tragic flaw thrives even more. Of course most of their decisions help maintain their tragic flaw as do the characters they choose to associate with. Last but not least is your Protagonist’s ACTION. All the elements preceding action culminate in some kind of action by the Protagonist that once again, assists in maintaining their tragic flaw.
I guess you could just as easy call it ENABLING.
Good Protagonists do whatever it takes to maintain their tragic flaw. It affects just about everything they do UNTIL that point comes along when they realize they no longer want to allow their tragic flaw to control their life.
Certainly, baby steps toward outing the tragic flaw will show some kind of change depending on how you create those steps. A fairly easy way to know where you should end up INTERNALLY however, is to simply figure out what the opposite of the Protagonist’s tragic flaw is. Once you figure out what the opposite of that flaw is, and you LIKE IT enough to use it, you can now figure out ways to slowly but surely OUT the flaw.
Unless you’re writing a tragedy.