The Hero’s Fatal Flaw

In the book “The Screenwriter’s Formula,” author Rob Tobin provides a great description for how to construct the hero’s fatal flaw. Creating this fatal flaw is essential to showing your hero’s growth.

Rob Tobin suggests looking at your hero as having screwed up in the past and as a result, develops some defensive behavior that protects against screwing up again, but also prevents the hero from achieving his or her goal.

Picture a hero wearing a suit of armor. That armor protects against being hurt by others, but also prevents the hero from getting close to others. In any good movie, the hero has to learn and grow, and the only way to do that is to shed this protective armor.

Imagine the hero being thrown in a pool. The protective armor now threatens to sink the hero unless he sheds the armor and makes himself vulnerable again. That’s the visual metaphor you need for your own hero.

In the comic book movie “Thor,” Thor starts off as an arrogant warrior and his arrogance causes him to be banished on Earth without his super powers. It’s only when he sacrifices himself to protect innocent people does he truly gain his super powers once more. In this case, Thor’s arrogance helped make him a fearless warrior, but it also kept him from understanding humility. That change made Thor grow as a character.

Now compare this to my favorite mediocre movie, “Captain America.” Captain America has no fatal flaw that’s wrecking his life. He’s just a skinny guy who wants to fight for his country. Then he gets his chance. Real exciting, huh?

While “Thor” shows a hero overcoming a personality flaw and learning and becoming a better person as a result, “Captain America” shows a hero overcoming a physical flaw and remaining basically the same person he was at the beginning as he is at the end. No change equals no interesting story.

Think of any sports movie like “Rocky” or “The Karate Kid” where the hero has to overcome his own doubts and test himself in the sports battlefield. In the better sports movies, the hero has to learn to develop trust in his own abilities and change.

Luke does that in “Star Wars” when he learns to trust the Force and blow up the Death Star. Marlin, the father in “Finding Nemo,” learns to trust his son and not be so protective. If you look at good movies, the hero’s fatal flaw is what causes his problems and what he needs to overcome to succeed in the end.

In “Finding Nemo,” Marlin is overly protective of his son, which causes his son to disobey him and get captured by a scuba diver. At the end, Marlin learns to trust Nemo when the fish pull the net down to save all the fish.

Your hero’s fatal flaw is what sinks your hero in a dead end life early in your movie but also provides your hero with the way to succeed at the end. When your hero overcomes a personality flaw to achieve a physical goal, we cheer because the character learned and grew with the physical goal just letting us see how that hero changed. Bad movies think special effects and massive explosions make for an interesting climax, but it’s really about seeing your character change and leave a dead end life in exchange for a much brighter one.

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