When you’re plotting
a book, think about the character flaws...
When I plot a book, I always
start with a hero’s greatest dreams and greatest fears. Getting to the
bottom of what my character dreads the most is a great way to develop
the ultimate black moment.
But it’s not the only way. What
if, in fact, you started with a character’s greatest FLAWS…and wrapped
the black moment and the entire plot around your Character’s foibles?
This is exactly the kind of plotting technique used in one of my
favorite series of movies – National Treasure. And
most specifically, National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets.
Benjamin Gates. National Hero.
Treasure Hunter, Historian and adventurer. He’s a guy with a long
family history, and a firm belief in the secrets of our country. But
Benjamin has a few flaws.
First, he has an overabundance
of family honor. It’s a classic case of “Pride goeth before the fall.”
Not saying that a person shouldn’t have pride in one’s family, but
Ben’s so convinced of his family’s honor that he’s certain his great
grandfather could never have planned the assassination of President
Lincoln. This family pride conspires to drive him into proving the
innocence of his family name. Like he says to his father, “We’re crazy,
but we’re not liars.”
But Ben is also convinced that
his always right, and believes that no one can solve the case but him.
This flaw, at the onset of the movie, has driven his girlfriend crazy
and caused him to be kicked out of the house. Of course, he needs her
security pass to examine some evidence, so he breaks into her house.
And then, when caught, he convinces her to let him examine the diary
page that convicted his great grandfather of plotting the
assassination, because of course, he can’t trust her (or anyone) to do
it but himself. Because, they might miss a vital clue.
Of course, he’s….right.
Which leads to a further flaw
used to plot the story. Benjamin Gates is highly suspicious of
everything – which means he’s not going to settle for the obvious. He
believes in the myths and the conspiracy theories which drive him to
probe deeper into every mystery, and it’s this flaw that uncovers the
cipher on the back of the diary page which leads to the next clue.
Benjamin Gates is also under the
delusion that he can figure out a way to accomplish just about
anything. Like break into the Queens’ Office in Buckingham Palace, or
the Oval Office in the White house.
And eventually kidnap the
president of the United States.
“Of course someone is after the
treasure – it’s the axiom of treasure hunting.” (Thank you Riley, that
was my point exactly). All these flaws work together to embroil his
family and friends in the search for truth, and they end up, yes,
discovering the City of Gold, but at nearly the cost of their lives.
The flaws all converge into a final, fatal flaw – a belief that the
ends justify the means. That it’s okay to risk life and limb and
reputation and love for pride and family honor. And, well, money. The
dark moment of truth: it’s not worth it if everyone you love dies, is
When you’re plotting a book,
think about the character flaws. What kind of issues does your
character deal with, and how can they lead him from one bad (or good?)
action to the next? How can they converge to bring about the dark
moment, and hopefully, an epiphany?
Thankfully, Gates is learning.
Like, realizing that he can’t always assume he’s right. And that his
stubbornness can lead to disaster. And hopefully, (but probably not,
because we need a National Treasure 3) that the ends DON’T justify the
Of course, despite his flaws,
Gates, has one character strength that balances out all his flaws, all
his foibles. A noble belief that truth will win the day, and lead to
Yeah, me too.