I’m still thinking about the character flaw post from March 24. I understand grief isn’t a character flaw, but I’m thinking about grief as a part of someone’s backstory. The character who keeps rattling around inside my brain is Darth Vader.
I'd say he has many flaws, but the biggest ones are his explosive temper (or tendency to overreact in general) and that he is easily manipulated. So when he is grieving the loss of a loved one (or even anticipating the loss of a loved one), his flaws really shine through in those situations.
I know he is not the hero (well I guess that depends on your perspective) and I know a novel written in 2018 should have more complex characters than one that originated in a movie from a few decades ago. But I’m wondering if the issue is just mistaking grief as a flaw, or is it also that characters dealing with grief/ptsd has been overdone so we should be staying away from it in general?
And no, I do not have a Vader-esque character in my WIP who I’m now super worried about, why do you ask?
I'm glad I saved this question for a while because a tv channel recently broadcast the Star Wars movies (in chrono order I think) and I got to see parts of the first three movies (the ones I'll always think of as first anyway.)
I'm going to take issue with your assertion that Darth Vader's character flaw is his explosive temper. I think it's his impatience. Remember Yoda talking about Vader being impatient with how long it took to become a Jedi and thus being sucked into the Dark Side?
However, I do agree with your overall point that grief is backstory, and illuminates character. I also think grief/ptsd are overdone, and unless there's some new twist in how it's presented in the book, it does feel old hat.
And in the larger perspective: I think character flaws are the parts of ourselves that we often think of as strengths. Vader's impatience means he acts quickly and decisively. That can be a good thing, particularly if you're leading an army. It's a good thing if your kid is about to run into traffic. Impatience is a not a good thing when you're teaching a two year old how to tie their shoes.
I'm well known for plain speaking. I think of it as a strength. Some call it brutal honesty. Others have different phrases, not all of them complimentary. I've had to learn to temper that part of myself. Writing conferences are the best example. Plain spoken brutal honesty is NOT the correct choice for talking with a novice writer showing her first work, a memoir of her difficult life and hard won survival.
In fact brutal honesty here is the absolutely wrong choice.
I had to learn that lesson more than once, to my everlasting shame.
Think of your own flaws. There are some you wouldn't change, aren't there? Those are the ones that are interesting.
I'm always drawn to complex characters who do the wrong thing for the right reason, or even better, the right thing for the wrong reason. Characters who are perplexed when people don't understand their "pure motives."
Telling me a man has PTSD from the war (any war) doesn't tell me much about him. When you say a man is scared to be part of a family because his PTSD manifests itself in ways he's afraid will teach a child to think of the world as a scary place, that illuminates character.
I think the question to ask as you build characters is whether something is an emotion (fear) or a flaw (impatience). Everyone has emotions. They're not right or wrong. What we do with them, how we act upon them, that's the good stuff.