Friday, October 25, 2013

Megaload of character flaws

Character flaws can come from traumatic events, a crummy childhood or cultural beliefs (family, community, religion).

I stumbled across a good therapy-based resource of childhood-based damage that can be useful for character flaws.

If you want to jump right in, it's pretty straightforward.

If you want to dig deeper to connect the ideas to enrich your backstory, that needs some explanation. I'll try to organize the pieces so you need to read as little as possible to use it, but so it all fits together into an understandable whole :-)

To find flaws for your character there are 2 sets of lists. The first, Flawed Thinking, is common attitudes. The second, Flawed Coping Strategies, is common strategies for coping with a life someone feels powerless to change, including 2 lists of flawed thoughts that reflect a coping strategy. You can use either or both.

Flawed Thinking

2 questionnaires. The titles is scary. The questions aren't!

Schema Questionnaire
long form (has more questions)
short form (easier to score. Though t's not necessary. (Described below.))
Flawed Coping Strategies

A list. There are 3 main strategies, Surrender, Avoidance, Overcompensation. Each is broken down into more specific strategies.

Common Maladaptive Coping Strategies

And 2 questionnaires. These thoughts connect (through the scoresheets) to the above strategies. (Surrender has fewer ways it plays out.)

Avoidance questionnaire
And a scoresheet.

Overcompensation questionnaire
And a scoresheet.

All 3 questionnaires list feelings, thoughts, actions that your character may say are true views of himself, others, and how he acts to make his life work. Scan through them to find a few statements your character would say, "Definitely me! That's true a lot of the time," to. What you're looking for is a few seeds to grow your story from.

Samples from the questionnaires
"I have to take care of the people around me."

"I don't feel much when I remember my childhood."

"I try to do my best; I can't settle for 'good enough.'"

"I get defensive when I'm criticized."

Most people have some of these thoughts occasionally. But when a person filters his life through them, they turn into shackles limiting what he'll allow himself to do, preventing him from becoming who he could be.

If someone bases her self worth on how much others need her, she may inflate how necessary she is, unconsciously trapping herself in her role (as leader, as mother, as the go to person).

She can't take a break because she believes everything will fall apart without her. She also can't take a break because subconsciously she fears everything won't fall apart, that people will carry on just fine without her.

Or she may make herself necessary by holding tight to essential information that would allow those dependent on her to be independent.
The statements might be enough to create the inner demons that will plague your character as he works towards what he wants.

Or you could dig deeper into why he bound himself. What lies ahead is fascinating but dangerous territory! ;-)

Digging deeper

Digging deeper is dangerous for two reasons. First, it seems like a great idea to create a full person then let them play out their life. But a story is the greater whole created by the resonance between flaws, journey, and character transformation. To get the pieces to resonate with each other, each needs to be loose enough to adjust to changes in the others. A life, on the other hand, is a random collection, like musical notes thrown on a page that only pure luck will make a song.

Second, because the juicier the background, the more tempted you'll be to write about how your character became flawed. As much fun as it is for a writer to explore who a character is, it's not so much for the reader. The reader wants to know how your character handles getting her heart's desire while handicapped by demons, not how the demons formed. (Though telling the backstory can make a great extra for your author website!)

Backstory creates a richer flaw for your protagonist to overcome. But backstory in the story should be like an iceberg: a few provocative sentences revealing it but mostly hidden beneath the surface.

Moving on ...
Well, that warning out of the way -- which I still find tempting to ignore ;-) -- the "truths"your character chose from the (Schema) questionnaire tie to unmet needs in her childhood in two ways. (You can score the questionnaire to find this stuff out, but first an explanation of what it tells you.)

Humans are born with the expectation that their needs for food, security, affection, belonging will be met while they're young and dependent. (The first 4 levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.) For tiny humans all are as essential for growing straight and true as the first.

Warping world view (Maladaptive Schemas)
So, firstly, if a child's expectations are repeatedly crushed, to cope she may warp her view of the world, of other people, of herself. The warping affects her expectations and how she interprets what happens to her.

These are Early Maladaptive Schemas, 18 different ways to warp world view. Don't be frightened by the title. ;-) Think warping lens.

She might see the world through Abandonment, shutting down trust that others will be there for her. She might see the world through Subjugation: knowing life will be much easier if she keeps her needs and emotions hidden.

Coping with a warped world view (Maladaptive Coping Strategies)
Then, secondly, the child might disfunctionally cope with her world view in three ways, by Surrendering, Avoiding or Overcompensating (as mentioned up at the top of the post). (The link gives lots of examples, all of which you'll recognize like aggression, manipulation, withdrawal.) These choices lessen the pain but don't fix the situation and may, overall, make life worse.

If she Surrenders, she accepts she has no control over how people see her or treat her. She might, for example, become dependent, a people pleaser, conflict avoidant.

If she Avoids, she escapes or blocks out what she doesn't want to deal with by, among others, withdrawing, drugs, hyper-busyness.

If she Overcompensates, she pours extra energy into something she can control or excel at to compensate for lack of control or failure in another area. This might be things like hostility, status seeking, neat freak.

Pulling out more from the Schema questionnaire
The harder pull, if you filled out the Schema Questionnaire completely (which really is overkill) you can rank each of the schemas by doing some adding and dividing, described here. This is where the short form is easier since to find an average, you divide each section by 5. For the long form, there's a different number of questions for each schema. It's all described at the link.
The easiest pull is you may have noticed small letters beneath groups of questions on the long and short Schema Questionnaire. Each refers to one of 15 (out of 18) Early Maladaptive Schemas (mentioned above.) Wherever your character has the most true statements, that's the lens that dominates how she views the world.

There's only 15 because they identified 3 more schemas after creating the questionnaires. The 3 that aren't included are:
  • Approval-Seeking/Recognition-Seeking
  • Negativity/Pessimism, and
  • Punitiveness. 
So you'll need to run those "manually" past your character to see if she perks up at any of them. (They're described on the Early Maladaptive thingy linked above.)

Also ...
Additionally there's a Parenting Inventory to get a picture of each parent's role in warping their child's view. And a scoresheet.

And finally ...

There's a book, Reinventing Your Life: The Breakthrough Program to End Negative Behavior and Feel Great Again, that walks you through your own character flaws -- or your character's character flaws. There are also many case studies in the book for a clearer grasp of how all these ideas play out in real live people.
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