Character Flaws: Discouragement

Sitting in church yesterday, I listened to a sermon on discouragement.  Thanks Pastor Alan for another blog post and ideas on character development and flaws. We all face discouragement in our lives, as a writer I face it several times a week as I send out queries.  Our characters should also face discouragement.

Mr. Webster defines discouragement as :

A loss of confidence or enthusiasm

Conflict is Good!

Really good stories have conflict.  We create characters that have a goal or desire, then we put them in trees and throw rocks at them. Yes, that’s clique, but I don’t care. How our characters deal with these rocks is what gives them believability and interest. The bigger the rock the better the conflict.

What causes discouragement?

I’m sure we all have personal rocks that have led to discouragement.  It’s different for each person, the same for our characters.   Imagine a large floor covered in dominoes standing on end. Each of these kicks off a string of dominoes…

  • Fatigue–  Regardless of the goal your character has set, they must actively try to achieve it.  Whether it’s potty training a toddler, trying to make partner in a law firm, or solving the murder of a coed on campus- goals take time and energy.  You prioritize life, squeezing out as much time to work on your goal as you can, to the point where you are worn out.  Does your character rest when needed? or Does he run headlong into the fog without regard to health and mental clarity? Their reaction to fatigue may determine how they deal with …
  • Frustration- I deal with insomnia, when I don’t sleep my frustration level heightens.  I grab chocolate and caffeine in hopes of staying sharp.  That just makes it worse.  Once, frustration has entered the mind of your character what does she do?  Do they chose a healthy outlet like going for a run? Do they get cranky and start yelling at people? Do they bury themselves in their goal, trying even harder? When frustration takes hold it doesn’t take long for …..
  • Fear- to set in. Your tired and frustrated, then the little red devil sits on your shoulder and whispers in your ear, “You’re not good enough.” How will your character deal with the fear of not obtaining their desired goal? They’ve been working toward it, they’ve planned everything out, tried every avenue, but it is still out of reach.  What do the shadows whisper to them when they sit in the dark at night? Do they give in to an addiction? Do they take it out on loved ones? Do they further alienate themselves from others?In the end this fear is about one thing…
  • Failure- We have all failed at something. We know the sting of not making it to the Spelling Bee, onto the football team, or rejected by love. How does our characters deal with it?  They will fail at something, they have to.  That failure will haunt them as they try to reach their goal.  It’s like I tell my kids, “Failure is a learning experience and it builds character.  No one likes to fail, but hopefully you’re smart enough to learn something so next time you’ll get closer.”

Discouragement is a common flaw.  Just look around the room next time you’re at a large gathering.  I promise you someone is facing it.

Whip discouragement !

At some point your character must face her fear, pluck up her courage, and get back on track. How many cliques can be in one blog post?  I hope there’s not a limit. Is there a trusted friend to talk to?  Does he go on a relaxing fishing trip to sort it all out?  Does she go out with the girls to lighten her mood?

Discouragement doesn’t go away by itself or evaporate overnight. It’s a process. There is a point when the character must turn around and continue toward their goal. Did Frodo give up after Sam left? No, he pulled up his furry feet and kept going to Mordor.

Tension and conflict make stories memorable and our characters more interesting.  But there also needs to be a resolution.

Do you have a character dealing with discouragement?




Character Flaws- Pride

Sitting in church Sunday I had a great idea.  I get lots of ideas at church.  Don’t go to another post, this is not a sermon.  Keep reading.  The sermon mentioned pride.  WOW.  That is a great character flaw.  It reminded me of a couple of characters in my WIP, Dead in the Water.

The characters we create should be 3 D, that means they must have flaws.  Don’t over do it and cross into melodrama, but they can not be perfect.  No one likes perfect.

Let’s look at pride.  (I promise not to hold up actual people as example)  According to the 1985 edition of Mr. Webster’s dictionary, pride is as follows:

(n) 1.  state of being proud  a. conceit    b. reasonable self-respect   c. delight from an act, possession, relationship

2. proud or disdainful behavior/treatment

3. ostentatious display

4.  a source of pride/best in class

5.  company of lions

6. a showy or impressive group

By the time I made it to #6 I had a vision of prancing peacocks.  For this post, I will ignore the last few definitions and concentrate on those related to characters.

Peacock Spreads Its Tail 5


Small amounts of pride are evident and even necessary for characters.  It’s called positive self-esteem.  Unless, your character is suffering low self-esteem, they will have some level of pride. Small amounts of pride are OK.  Left unchecked by humility, it causes problems.   The clique is easy, the husband that refuses to ask for directions and wanders aimlessly around the countryside waiting for some magic hand to point him in the right direction, or the mother who thinks her child is perfect and never does anything wrong.

Having gone to Sunday school my whole life, pride comes before the fall, has been drilled into my brain.  Unless you work in Washington DC and then you are rewarded for it.

What does this mean for our characters?

Pride usually starts small, being rewarded for good work.   Constant praise morphs into blind pride.  It can be based on achievement.  Here in the South it tends to be based more on gender rolls and college football.  Pride also comes from personal image, or their perceived image.  It doesn’t have to be how others actually see them.  A character who sees themselves as a pillar of the community and likes to show off his/her “perfect” life will take drastic measures to keep that image.

My MC is named Coco.  She was created out of frustration.  I was tired of reading cozy novels where the protagonist was tall, thin, gorgeous, and financially stable.  I wanted one to be more realistic.  Coco is a little short, and curvy.  She looks like I imagine most American women look.  She’s working on her second career after she failed at being a reporter.  She’s not visually perfect, but she does have a positive self-image.  Her problem with pride shows up in an unlikely place.  She get’s mixed up in a murder investigation and everyone tells her she needs to stop and let the police handle it.  This is where most Southerners have a problem with pride.  Now that people think she can’t do it she has to prove them wrong.  Her pride is wrapped up in her abilities, it also makes it hard to ask for help when you’re in over your head.  Of course, things don’t work out and she ends up in a dangerous situation.  I’m not telling any more, I hope the book will be out before I die.

Pride causes people to become arrogant, can put them in dangerous situations, and can alienate others.  It’s an easy flaw to give a character, because so many people actually have it.  Go ahead and tell me my biscuits are not as good as yours!   The fun is finding new ways to make that flaw evident.

What’s your favorite character flaw?