As any aspiring writer will testify, all great characters are deeply flawed. Think of Sherlock Holmes and his drug addiction, Bill Clinton and his libido, or Terry Bradshaw and his mouth. Just as protagonists must be matched against strong antagonists, each of us must contain seeds of our own destruction.
A classic character flaw is acting against our own self-interests, technically known as shooting oneself in the foot. There is even a name for this: dysrationalia. The term was coined by Keith Stanovich to describe how smart people do stupid things. See this article about Stanovich’s work for more info, but be aware that the article author incorrectly ascribes many of Daniel Kahneman’s points from his book Thinking, Fast and Slow to Stanovich.
A common form of dsyrationalia is the inability to work well with others. I have observed with surprise, sometimes with dismay, as people’s careers are hamstrung and even destroyed by their inability to play well with others. In the Great Sandbox of Life, we are rarely alone. The height of our sand castles is directly proportional to the cooperation of those about us.
Tragically, those most susceptible to Doesn’t Play Well with Others Syndrome (DPWWOS) are often unaware of their affliction. It seems that blind spots are a character flaw we all share. While some of us do highly visible crash and burns from DPWWOS, others do slow burns into oblivion, blind to both the dead ends of their life trajectories and to the cause of their demise. These are the most tragic of all.
Maybe we’re all characters in a complex novel of universal proportions, endowed by the Great Author with internal fallacies we cannot overcome.
Or maybe not. (I don’t believe in predestination.)
Look to your blind spots and be aware that few of us have the luxury, or curse, of being totally alone. All our dreams are intertwined.
Of course, authors afflict only their greatest characters with self-destructive flaws. Small bit players like me, charged solely with comic relief, can reasonable expect to be flawless. So I’m free to go about kicking sand with impunity.
What could go wrong?