Often when talking about a fictional character we end up saying that this character’s weakness and and his flaws make him impossible to like. But this is just not true. A character’s weakness is exactly what makes him special in the eyes of the people who are watching him. It’s what makes the audience empathize and understand him.
In another article (multi-dimensional character meaning and how to write it), I wrote about the fact that there is no explanation for a character’s “dimension” is, and that the best way to find clarity is to examine the different points of view of the most famous figures in the screenwriting and writing business.
According to Truby, a character had 2 fixated dimensions: a weakness and a need.
The need is what the character lacks, the thing that, if provided, would make him happy. It’s something the character is not aware of, but the audience often is.
During the story, the protagonist is so busy trying to reach the goal that most of the times he confuses the goal for happiness and tries to get it as hard as he can.
For example: a man wants to be rich because he thinks that if he has money everyone will love him. Wealth is his goal and love is his need. This character is confusing love with money, so he will spend the whole story pursuing this goal and not paying attention to his need.
The need, however, is not something the character cannot achieve. In stories with a happy ending the character finds happiness and fulfills his need. How does he do that? By overcoming his weakness.
The character’s weakness
The character’s weakness must be something psychological. It’s possible for the character to have physical disabilities but in order to be considered weaknesses they must affect him emotionally as well.
For example: Tyrion Lannister in Game of thrones has a condition called dwarfism. This inevitably affects his physical abilities, but it also makes him suffer emotionally because his condition is what makes his father Tywin despise him.
There are two kinds of weaknesses:
A flaw that only affects the character. It could be a traumatic event that is still conditioning the character’s decisions or a personality trait that is holding him back.
For example: Tyrion finally feels free of his weakness when he leaves the toxic atmosphere of the Lannister family. He realizes that what made him suffer was not dwarfism, but the way his father and his siblings treated him.
This particular flaw is not hurting just the hero but also the people around him. It is reflected in the way he treats others (too arrogant, too kind, too trusty…), and this way his own actions keep him from being happy.
For example: the moral weakness of the rich man mentioned before could be greed. If he is so focused on getting money that he hurts people in the process, he’ll need to learn how to respect others in order to be happy.
Wreck it Ralph
Ralph starts out as a character with a desire we can all understand: being accepted and respected. He feels isolated and the other members of his game look down on him, so he leaves his own game and goes on a quest to win a medal. He thinks that the metal will prove his worth and give him the respect he strives for.
Goal: get a medal.
What Ralph doesn’t understand is that a medal won’t change everyone’s mind, it will only make him look even more like a “bad guy” since he stole it instead of earning it. All he needs to do in order to be happy is to show the other characters in the game how important his presence is. Without a villain the game doesn’t work, that’s why even the job of a “bad guy” like Ralph deserves respect.
Need: confidence in himself and his role.
Ralph expresses this sufference through anger and by acting impulsively. He doesn’t leave the game by night, when the Arcade is closed and there is no risk that a human might discover his absence. He takes the impulsive decision to leave immediately after hearing about their medal, even if he knows that the Arcade is about to open.
Inside “Hero’s duty” he panics, spoils the game for the player and accidentally makes a lot of bugs egg hatch while trying to take the medal. His inability to think before acting is constantly putting him in danger.
In Sugar Rush he runs around looking for his medal and doesn’t realize that he is destroying everything in his path.
The same happens at the end of act 2, after talking to King Candy he impulsively decides to destroy Vanellope’s kart and leave her alone in the hands of the king.
Psychological weakness: boldness.
Ralph desire to be respected and appreciated is understandable, but this becomes selfishness when he forgets that he has a responsibility towards the other characters of his game. If he dies, or if he accidentally gets held away from his game for too long, the other characters will have to suffer a terrible fate because of him.
Moral weakness: selfishness.
During his journey he meets Vanellope, a glitch who doesn’t have a role in her own game and can’t escape. Despite the fact that her situation is much worse than Ralph, her spirit is not broken. She is determined to earn the respect from the other characters, also she doesn’t give importance to a meaningless metal like Ralph does. She embodies his need of confidence.
On the other hand, King Candy (aka Turbo), embodies Ralph fatal flaw: the idea that he can wreak havoc in any game in order to get what he wants.
The story helps Ralph realize what his weakness is and, thanks to those two characters who embody his flaws, gives him the instruments to overcome it.