Writing Excuses Notes: Flaws VS Handicaps

Here are some notes I took after listening to Writing Excuses.

It is an educational podcast that helps novelists/writers.

The topic is about flaws vs handicaps.

It comes from Season 1, Episode 6.


Flaws VS Handicaps

A flaw is internal, whereas a handicap is external.

Handicaps are like constraints.

Example one: A relationship (flaw) VS a time limit (handicap)

Example two: One’s temper (flaw) VS a wonky car (handicap)

Flaws are mainly the hero’s fault, where handicaps usually are not.

Flaws lead to character arcs. Handicaps set up conflicts.

Spider-man is a good example.

Mary Jane / Aunt May are handicaps. They’re constantly in danger.


Why are flaws important?

It makes the characters more interesting.

Readers can identify with faults.

The problem is that some heroes are frozen on the edge.

Some characters are unable to grow past identity flaws.


The power-creep problem

The hero has overcome their struggles.

Now they need new flaws or more difficult challenges.

It is the soap opera problem.

The hero develops, overcomes, then the next season with new problems.

Flaws allow for growth

Readers identify with character growth and their changes.

We also fear change.

Growth is painful, but readers see others manage to get through it.

That inspires readers.
It is why people read.


How do you match flaws with heroes?

Look at the points of conflict and justify reactions with their flaws.

KEY: Flaws should work into the story, be part of the conflict, and exacerbate that conflict.

    • If they don’t hinder the character or the story, they’re just quirks.

Villains should exploit these points of weakness.

How do you give characters a flaw and still make them likable?

They need to be competent at something. It adds balance.


Writing Excuses Season One Notes

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