Center on internal flaw for compelling story

To make a story more compelling, consider structuring it around an internal flaw in the main character. An internal flaw is some personal trait that makes a character less than perfect – perhaps being quick to anger, possibly suffering from jealousy or envy, maybe believing his outlook on the world is the only correct one. As none of us are perfect, an internal flaw makes a character who may otherwise be quite heroic appear more realistic to readers.

In a story, this internal flaw can be put to good effect, Begin with a central problem that sets the story into motion and that only the main character can resolve – except to actually reduce this central problem, the main character must overcome his inner flaw. The story’s plot then centers on the main character dealing with his internal flaw as he fails to adequately address the story’s central problem.

For example, if the central problem in a science fiction story is that an old, virtually invincible war machine has come “back to life” and is preying upon innocent starships and planetary colonies, the only solution may be to enlist the only living designer of the berserker to determine its weakness and stop it. This story can become much more compelling, however, if the only living designer is a hermit and believes his old age and frailty prevents him from being useful or capable anymore. His internal flaw – a lack of confidence and faith in himself – now must be overcome if civilization is to survive.

The central problems gives our main character adequate motivation to address his internal flaw but he does not have the emotional tools to overcome it. The story then may show how his failure to address his internal flaw means he can’t defeat the machine. It may show how when he slightly but inadequately addresses his internal flaw he fails to stop the berserker and takes this as a sign that he is right about his uselessness. The story may show that when he more adequately addresses his internal flaw he almost succeeds in resolving the central problem. The story ultimately, in its climax, must show him making the sacrifice of giving up this sense of uselessness that he’s become “comfortable” with in order for him to actually succeed in stopping the machine.

What makes this story so compelling is that it’s character-based. It shows the character growing. Many readers will be able to identify with and root for this hero. The berserker scenes become the special effects that helps draw readers into the story and that prevents the story from becoming pure navel gazing.