Friday, May 25, 2012

Wounds. Flaws. Obsession.

Your characters, human or otherwise, must exhibit human nature. They must have flaws, baggage, and emotional wounds. However, which comes first? The flaw or the wound? Does one always create the other?

"Great movie, but how did Dory learn to read in the first place?"

Take Finding Nemo, to start. Marlin's a good fellow, but he's overprotective to such an extreme that he ends up, ironically, endangering the very son he seeks to protect. Of course, within the first five minutes of the film, we witness that losing 400 family members in a matter of moments is enough to make anyone a bit overprotective of the one family member they have left. Still, the wound occurs: Marlin loses his family, with the exception of little Nemo. Marlin then develops his flaw: an obsessive, overprotective tendency. The wound generates the flaw.

Next, let's take a look at The Social Network. Similar to Nemo, the wound and flaw appear within the first several minutes. However, it's Mark Zuckerberg's flaw that creates the wound: status-obsessed, he shoves his girlfriend away, and he spends the rest of the film trying to win her back in the only way he knows how, which is the very way that drove her away.

So how do you set up your own characters? Do we see the wound first or the flaw? In both examples, one is tied the other.

The answer is that you can go about this either way (the following are original examples):

1. A young man, whose long-term girlfriend dumped him, develops womanizing tendencies and uses women to make him feel better for having been, in his point of view, mistreated. The wound generates the flaw.

2. A lazy farmer resists the urge to join the resistance movement against a corrupt and tyrannical regime. Then, the regime sends soldiers to his town and kills or abducts everyone he holds dear, and he is unready to rescue them. The flaw generates the wound.

Start with a flaw, or start with a wound. Either way. However, you must be ready to not only justify why they start with whichever wound/flaw they have, but we must also see the action that demonstrates how one leads to the other:

1. In Nemo, Marlin's inability to protect those dearest to him leads to tragedy (the wound). He therefore develops an overprotective lifestyle (the flaw) around his single remaining offspring.

2. In Network, Mark's obsession with Final Clubs and status (the flaw) is too much for Erica Albright to bear, and she leaves him with the check at The Thirsty Scholar (the wound).

In both cases, the common denominator is obsession. This is key. Mark starts obsessed, which leads to the central conflict of The Social Network. Marlin does not start out obsessed, but in short order, the wound creates his obsession. So think of it like this:

The wound creates the want/plot goal/obsession.
The flaw creates the need/theme/intangible lesson.

In both examples, the catastrophe that befalls both protagonists leads to them spending the rest of the respective films going after the tangible element that they believe lost. Their wound, they believe, is what needs to be put right. However, it is their flaw that becomes the theme of the film (what Tim Albaugh of UCLA and Hollins University calls, "What the film is really about"). The flaw is what really needs to be fixed.

Of course, Marlin wants to find Nemo. What he needs to learn is to let his son go.

Mark Zuckerberg wants his girlfriend back. What he needs is to stop being a status-obsessed asshole.

Wound is to flaw as want is to need. In pursuit of correcting the wound, your character learns how to heal from the wound and correct their flaw.

To close with another Pixar example, Up's Carl Frederickson feels guilt over never taking his late wife, Ellie, to Paradise Falls. His flaw is that he's unable to let go, which is what Ellie always wanted for him.

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