Monthly Archives: June 2024

How to Write the Character Flaw.

Unfettered ambition - the flaw that ruins Macbeth
Unfettered ambition – the flaw that ruins Macbeth

What is a character flaw, and how do we write it?

One way to think of it is as a glitch in our character’s internal makeup that affects his/her interaction with the world. In trying to hide or suppress this glitch, the character engages in an inner and outer struggle, which drives the story forward. 

character flaw may be born out of an internal cause, such as an emotional scar from the past, or an external one, such as an illness or a physical defect (which, in turn, creates a psychological response). It can manifest as an inability to trust others, a need to control or manipulate others, or a particular prejudice. 

Flaws that generate internal and external conflict make for interesting stories that resonate with readers and audiences.

Some of the best stories have revolved around the protagonist’s desire to conceal or overcome a flaw. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the Thane’s latent desire to be king is brought to the surface by various external forces, such as the three witches and his manipulating and ambitious wife, while in Othello, the Moor’s insane jealousy and distrust of his innocent spouse, Desdemona, results in his murdering her.

A flaw generates questions about the story: What lies and obfuscations has the character created to conceal his flaw? How has the flaw shaped the fears, aspirations, and foibles of this character? And, crucially, what influence does the flaw exert over each of the major decision/action points in the story—the inciting incident, the first and second turning point, as well as the mid-point, and climax? 

Above all, a well-designed flaw allows for the synching up of the internal and external aspects of the Hero’s journey through the link of cause and effect, and as such, is one of the most useful techniques to master. It is often the “why” to the story’s “what”. 

In The Matrix Neo’s inner journey is to accept his role as The One. His outer goal is to defeat Agent Smith and the machine world, something that can only occur when he achieves the inner goal of moving from a lack of self-belief (flaw) to one of belief. 

This inner journey defines Neo’s character arc, influencing each major action in the story. It helps to shape the narrative as a whole. Additionally, it ties into the notion of want vs. need that I examined in an earlier post, by contrasting the external (want), to the internal (need).


A character flaw filters a protagonist’s responses. It helps to explain the true psychological motivation behind the character’s actions.

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Dialogue Techniques: Question-and-Answer & Repetition.

Dialogue techniques in Better Call Saul

Today, we’re continuing to explore a crucial aspect of storytelling: dialogue. This narrative component is such an important part of storytelling that it has given rise to countless of books and courses on how to master it. Specifically, we’ll explore what Dwight V. Swain calls dialogue continuity in his book, Film Scriptwriting – A Practical Manual.

Swain affirms that one of the markers of good dialogue is continuity flowing from a question-and-answer format, and the repetition of words. That is, lines of dialogue which acknowledge the ones preceding them. There are several ways to do this. Let’s focus on two of the most common techniques: the question/answer structure and repetition.

Repetition couched in a questions and answers.

Repetition, embedded in a question-and-answer format, can be a powerful tool in creating continuity and mounting tension. By repeating a word or phrase from one line to the next, and demanding answers to questions, writers create a flow that keeps the conversation cohesive and engaging.

A good example of this technique can be seen in the Better Call Saul episode, Chicanery. There is a courtroom scene where Jimmy (Saul) McGill cross-examines his brother Chuck McGill, a brilliant lawyer himself. Chuck claims to suffer from a mystery illness which makes him sensitive to electrical currents. The courtroom lights, except for the Exit sign, have been switched off, and all electrical devices such as cellphones and watches, removed from the courtroom.

Chuck is accusing his brother Jimmy of unlawful practices and wants to have him stripped of his law licence. Jimmy’s only defence is to have his brother appear so mentally challenged by his phobias so as to render his testimony against him unreliable. This scene masterfully uses the question-and-answer format, as well as some repetition of words to build mounting tension, only to have it released at the end, showcasing Jimmy’s mastery of the set-up.

Example from Better Call Saul, Season 3, Episode 5: Chicanery:

  • Chuck: The further away it is, the stronger the source has to be to have an effect.
  • Jimmy: Got it. Got it. So If I had a small battery, say from a watch or something, and I got it close to you, close to your skin, you’d know.
  • Chuck: I would feel it, yes.
  • Jimmy: Can you feel more current from any particular direction right now? From that back wall? Or from over there? Or up through the floor? Can you tell us where the nearest source is, right now?
  • Chuck: (Growing suspicious). Jimmy, do you have something in your pocket?
  • Jimmy: Yes, I do, as a matter of fact. (Takes out a cellphone from his pocket). My cellphone. From this distance you should feel it, and you don’t, do you?
  • Judge: Mr. McGill. You were warned to leave your electronics outside.
  • Chuck: It’s alright. It’s alright. May I? (Takes the cellphone from, Jimmy). Just as I thought. There’s no battery in here. You removed the battery. That’s a sorry little trick, isn’t it?
  • Jimmy: Yea. You got me Chuck. Dead to rights. I removed the battery
  • Chuck: God Jimmy. Don’t you know by now, this is real. I feel this? It’s a physical response to stimuli. Not a quirk. What do we have to do to prove it to you?
  • Jimmy: I don’t know, Chuck. Could you reach into your breast pocket and tell me what’s there?
  • Chuck: What now? (Chuck fumbles in his pocket and removes the cellphone battery that Jimmy has had one of his employees placed there surreptitiously. Chuck throws the battery on the floor).
  • Jimmy: Can you tell the court what that was?
  • Chuck: A battery. (Realising he’s been tricked.)

Jimmy explains to the court that he had one of his men, Huell Babineaux, plant the fully charged battery on Chuck when he bumped into him in the passage an hour and forty three minutes ago, disproving Chuck’s claim that electric currents make him feel ill, and undermining his testimony against Jimmy. The question-and-answer format, the repetition of the word battery have all served the flow and continuity of the scene, and have helped to bring it to a crescendo.

Embedding the repetition of words into a question-and-answer format, then, is an effective way of creating mounting tension while maintaining continuity. The technique keeps the conversation focused and dynamic, ensuring that each new line flows naturally from the previous one.

Other Techniques

While repetition and the question/answer format are powerful tools, there are other ways to enhance your dialogue, too, such as extended pauses, misdirection, a change of subject, and subtext which can add layers and depth to the dialogue. Regardless of the technique, however, the key is to ensure that your dialogue flows.


Repeating words embedded in a question-and-answer format is an effective way to create mounting tension and dialogue continuity in your novels and screenplays.


Attitudes and Demeanour in Stories

The Sopranos: Character Attitudes
The Sopranos: Poker, Character Attitudes and Demeanour

How do character attitudes and demeanour, as well as reflexes and dialogue, support the authenticity of a scene? Let’s take a closer look!

As writers we sometimes concentrate on the events and actions that make up our stories without, perhaps, paying as much attention to the subtext that attitudes and demeanour, as well as ‘voice’, contribute to a scene.

The decision of Jackie Jr. to rob Eugene’s poker game, for example, demonstrates his reckless nature and his need for recognition. He is impulsive and easily influenced, as demonstrated by his decision to initiate the heist after Ralphie tells them how Tony and Jackie’s father gained their reputation for a similar heist. However, when the situation escalates and violence erupts, Jackie Jr. panics, leading to disastrous consequences. He comes across as nervous and out of his depth, and his impulsively shooting Sunshine and fleeing the scene betrays his lack of maturity and inability to handle high-pressure situations.

Carlo and Dino: Like Jackie Jr., Carlo and Dino are portrayed as young, inexperienced, jittery, and easily swayed by the allure of criminal activity. Their involvement in the robbery highlights their willingness to take risks and their desire for status within the criminal underworld, but their poor judgement, their lack of foresight and experience gets them killed.

Sunshine: Sunshine’s heckling of the would-be robbers, on the other hand, showcases his confidence, his defiance, and his refusal to be intimidated, even at the point of a gun. This is a man who has seen it all before and his demeanour shows it. His refusal to comply with the demands of the robbers ultimately leads to his demise. Sunshine’s character serves as a foil to the impulsive and inexperienced robbers, highlighting the consequences of underestimating one’s adversaries.

Furio: Furio’s nervous response to the robbers is to ‘take it easy’. Furio, who is an import from the mother country, is perhaps the least assured of the New Jersey-hardened mobsters. He ends up getting shot in the leg.

Matush: Matush’s decision to flee, abandoning his accomplices, underscores the theme of betrayal and self-preservation prevalent throughout the series. His panic highlights the fragile alliances and loyalty within the criminal underworld.

Christopher and Albert: Christopher and Albert’s response to the failed robbery demonstrates their self-assurance, authority and willingness to enforce consequences for disobedience and incompetence. They execute Dino outside. Christopher angrily informs the reluctant Tony about the need to kill Jackie Jr. This underscores the ruthless nature of their profession and the importance of sending a signal to their enemies to avoid being seen as weak.

For writers, this scene offers valuable insights into character response, conflict resolution, and the consequences of impulsive decisions. By understanding the different attitudes, reflexes and general demeanour of characters under pressure, we can create more nuanced and realistic portrayals of them and the worlds they inhabit. Additionally, the scene highlights how tension and high stakes may unleash catastrophic results, keeping audiences engaged.


Concentrate on your characters’ attitudes, demeanour and reflexes under pressure to achieve a nuanced and realistic portrayal of story events.

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