Character Flaws Part 1


Character Flaws: What are they? Why are they important?  How do you go about picking flaws?  How aware should characters be of their flaws? Should they be resolved?  This is meaty subject so we’ll definitely have to do a part 2.

Links to the shows, films, and books we discuss are listed on this episode’s web page:

Wikipedia on Character Flaws (for what it’s worth)



Breaking Bad



A Christmas Carol

Curb Your Enthusiasm



hamartia (the concept)


Harry Potter Book 1




Kramer vs. Kramer

Marcelo and the Real World

Nurse Jackie


Planet of the Apes

Pride and Prejudice

Rosengrantz and Guildenstern are Dead


The Bridge

This is the End


Direct Download Link for the episode

More about this show, for new listeners:

In The Narrative Breakdown, Cheryl Klein, James Monohan, and other guest co-hosts discuss storytelling tips and techniques of interest to any writer, student, or fan of quality creative writing, screenwriting, playwriting, fan fiction, English literature, etc. Each episode, Cheryl and James draw upon their respective experiences in publishing and filmmaking to analyze popular novels, movies, plays, television shows, short stories, and song lyrics. Featuring various co-hosts and writers, as well as material from Cheryl Klein’s book ‘Second Sight’ and James’ iPhone / iPad app ‘The Storyometer.’



11 Responses to “Character Flaws Part 1”

  1. elizabeth October 15, 2013 at 3:04 pm #

    Great podcast! I’m really enjoying it. I’m surprised the characters in NBC’s Hannibal didn’t come up, especially when talking about how “bad” your protagonists can be before they become annoying. I find Will Graham’s character to be refreshing, because even though he has this trait of almost supernatural empathy which allows him to access those “dark” places, and is easily manipulated by Hannibal, it is clear that he is truly a “good guy”, and Hannibal is deeply and truly the “bad guy”. Its kind of nice to have those clear cut characters after dealing with an onslaught of blurred lines and antiheroes!

    Anyways, great job, got me thinking a lot! Looking forward to the next episode.

  2. Anthony Giambusso October 17, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    I have to disagree with the thoughts on Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity. I felt like her character perfectly represented a major theme of the character flaws podcast which was, it’s not about a character responding to an obstacle, rather a character deciding to move forward. With this theme, the film can essentially take place anywhere with any scenario. Instead of a character simply trying to ‘survive’, the film presents a character that has to ‘choose to survive’.

    In relation to the qualm about her character being told what to do the entire film, I felt this was unjustified as well. The George Clooney character is her superior, and for the sake of the narrative she is a rookie. The crux of the film when she finds the information that saves her life, although George Clooney is there to tell her, it’s just a hallucination, the information coming from her own mind. It wasn’t that he told her what she needed to know at one point and she simply remembered. It was in her mind the whole time. George Clooney physically appearing functioned well as a cinematic moment and much needed comic relief.

    There is a pair of moments in the film that defined her growth for me. Early on she is nervous, attempting to fix her piece of equipment, as the space debris is rocketing toward them. A bolt pops off and floats toward the camera. She has all but given up on trying to retrieve it when George Clooney reaches out and reels it in. Later in the film, when she is alone, outside the ship, space debris rocketing toward her yet again, her drill detaches and floats in an almost identical shot toward the camera. This time, she lets go of the craft, reaches out and reels it in. I felt that this small moment was her asserting her control over the situation.

    I agree that the representation of women in film is an important topic for conversation. However, I liked that the protagonist of Gravity was the least qualified in the worst situation, had it been male or female. I don’t think she needed to be ‘tough as nails’ or the ‘best in the business’ to make her a strong female character.

    Lastly in relation to Gravity, I’ve heard many issues with the idea that her character is so dramatically unqualified to be in space. They say it’s too unrealistic. I find though, that every movie gets that one unbelievable thing. As long as there’s just the one, we can take the leap of faith and accept it. ie. Time travel exists and it works. Or, a radioactive spider gives a teenager super powers.

    I’ll finish by saying that I find the Narrative Breakdown podcast enlightening and inspirational, and extremely informative. I’m thankful for all of you and for providing it to people like me.

    But PLEASE, and I can’t stress this enough, please, no more Breaking Bad spoilers!!!

  3. Cheryl October 20, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    Hi Anthony,

    Interesting thoughts. I hadn’t noticed the parallel drill moments you point out, and that IS good to see (though George Clooney just isn’t there to save her the second time around…). I posted about this subject at length on my blog, and I’ve been discussing it with others in the comments there ever since: http://chavelaque.blogspot.com/2013/10/the-feminist-thing-that-irritated-hell.html

  4. Jennifer November 11, 2013 at 11:08 pm #

    I am an English teacher. I don’t do much creative writing instruction (thank you, Common Core), but I do teach students to analyze literature and I help them in their independent reading choices. As I listened to this podcast, I was brought back to two years ago when Hunger Games the movie came out. NONE of my students liked Katniss. They didn’t hate her, but she was not their favorite character. Why? They felt she was too apathetic, too indecisive. She was decisive at the Reaping, but not really past that. That, I think, is the fatal flaw of the series, especially Mockingjay, which may have the dubious honor of being one of the only films better than the book. That said, I think Catching Fire may be the exception because she was motivated: to save Peeta.

    Thank you for your terrific podcasts! I recommend them to any of my students who love writing and are thinking about it as a career.

  5. Blogleyur December 3, 2013 at 1:08 pm #

    …teachers make “subhuman wages” quod vide; re: Breaking Bad’s Walter White.

    Ironic, you paint Walter White as a noble civic servant sacrificing a highly paid executive position for “subhuman wages” as a virtue, rather than a flaw.

    Today, (primary school) teachers are only necessary to the extent that a modern, educated populous chooses to become “executives” rather than to teach their own children. Yes, of course some people don’t have the time; they have to work to make ends meet. But those people tend to make near poverty wages. Those are the people who can least afford to pay someone a salary replete with guaranteed wage increases and benefits better than their own (and completely without regard to the current economic circumstances). Taxes are mandatory; the choice to become a teacher is not. I’ll ignore the greed, versus career, versus other motivations for working-and-not-teaching-your-own-children debate. However, one of the main premises to any such argument is the idea that a professional teacher is a “better” teacher—more on that later.

    Teachers in Chicago (my ex-home town) make $50k per year to start (for a B.A. in Ed.) yet many of them cannot pass the entrance exam (cast at the 8th grade level) on the first try. Senior teachers make over $80k per year, with full benefits; they are paid regardless of poor performance of their duties, or the lack of success of their mission. Compare that wage to that of computer techs with bachelor’s degrees who to have to spend thousands of dollars to retrain and get re-certified every few years and make less than $50k (and who get fired when they make mistakes).

    The working poor are held hostage by the antiquated concept that public schools are a modern necessity and they are routinely raped raw by teacher’s strikes, threats of strikes and property tax hikes (taxes manifest as rent hikes, although the dumbest of voters haven’t figured that out yet).

    Public education has become one of many U.S. social programs so wonderful that people must be forced to participate. Teachers are vehemently against vouchers (competition), there’s nothing noble about that political strategy. Forcing gifted children into a squalid political debacle masquerading as a vital educational program proves we as a people, are not very smart. Perpetuating the union propaganda that teachers are not paid well, in spite of overwhelming budgetary facts that prove *we spend more and get less for it, is shameful. Likewise, the zeitgeist meme that even a garbage man (sorry, “sanitation engineer”) must have a degree, is a marketing wet dream; big education, cranking out plastic, soulless pseudo-intellectuals in pursuit of menial jobs. They end up on food stamps the same as those who do or don’t complete high school.

    Someone who could make millions as an executive, or hundreds of thousands as a professor is making a flawed (read: stupid) choice by teaching public high school. He or she is “over qualified” and is taking the job of someone who “belongs” in that position. Just like adults who make minimum wage mowing lawns, delivering papers or flipping burgers is a sign of globalism and the failure of political leadership, not the greed of the employers—choosing the wrong job is still a choice. Walter is not doing society a favor by teaching high school; and he’s not a very good teacher, consider: his most successful student is a dropout drug dealer.

    *In this government report (1993) we are far from last in educational spending as a percentage of GDP. However, the GDP figure is meaningless when you consider that in actual dollars we spend more per student than the other countries being compared. That was in 1993. In 2010 the amount was almost double 1993–$11,135 versus $5,987—actually over $15k per student in some areas of the country.
    http://nces.ed.gov/pubs98/98009.pdf and http://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=66

  6. Fred Garber December 22, 2013 at 4:21 am #

    I was wondering if you’d touch back on this in Flaws point 2, but you didn’t.

    Kryptonite isn’t Superman’s flaw, it’s his weakness. Superman’s flaw is that he’s only one man, and it’s only his moral code that separates him from some of the baddies.

    It is ironic, both since he’s not human and Krypton society has most often been written as deeply flawed. But in my opinion, that’s what gives the better Superman stories oomph: Either the alternate universes like Kingdom Come, where we see what a different Superman would do, or when Superman has to depend on Lois and Jimmy (with all that risk) or Batman (with his darker methods) in order to defeat the villains of the story.

    • Devin May 15, 2014 at 10:06 am #

      I think for examples of movies about characters with fatal flaws they only realize at the very end, you can’t do better than Gone With the Wind.

  7. Val Kay January 8, 2014 at 8:10 pm #

    Does anyone ever get annoyed with Sheldon on Big Bang Theory? I’ve tried to watch that show because so many people like it, but I get so annoyed with Sheldon. I think the writers take him too far. I find myself enjoying something at first, but then they go too far with the behavior and I get uncomfortable for the character and become disgusted with the writing. And it’s hard for me to believe that all of his friends just put up with him for so long. Sheldon is unbelievable to me.

  8. Aaron Compton May 14, 2015 at 3:50 am #

    Matt Bird’s flaw is that he says ‘y’know’ a LOT. I know he can overcome this though and I’m rooting for him cause this is a great episode of a great podcast. That, y’know, verbal tick off his is, y’know, almost enough to y’know, make this unlistinable for me.


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