Protagonist Potential . . . or Why the Dominant Character Flaw is so damn Important

Adron J. Smitley
3 min readApr 1, 2023

I’ve kept this lesson as concise as possible because I’m about to reveal the single most important piece of advice you will ever learn as a fiction writer regardless your genre, and often point, purpose and meaning become lost amid overcomplicated explanations which can lead to frustrating confusion.

Here is the core formula of every story ever told in its most basic form:

A flawed protagonist’s ordinary world is disrupted by an unfamiliar event associated with their dominant character flaw. They endure trials and tribulations, both positive and negative, which are connected to their dominant character flaw. They eventually arrive to decision and either overcome or surrender to their dominant character flaw. Then they are either rewarded or punished accordingly.

So how does this apply to the Acts?

Like so:

Act 1 (Inciting Incident): A flawed protagonist’s ordinary world is disrupted by an unfamiliar event associated with their dominant character flaw.

Act 2A (Trials & Tribulations): They endure trials and tribulations, both positive and negative, which are connected to their dominant character flaw.

Act 2B (Dark Night of the Soul): They eventually arrive to decision and either overcome or surrender to their dominant character flaw.

Act 3 (Triumphant or Tragic Climax): Then they are either rewarded or punished accordingly.

This simple core formula works for both Plotters and Pantsers as well every genre that exists because every story is about protagonist change, whether Triumphant positive or Tragic negative, all stemming from their dominant character flaw, and once that change is triumphantly rewarded or tragically punished your story is over.

This is why you must begin the creation of your story by establishing an interesting and relatable dominant character flaw restricting the protagonist from achieving their full potential, because everything in your story relates to the protagonist eventually overcoming or surrendering to their dominant character flaw as well the ensuing reward or punishment either earns them as the story’s moral lesson, providing its proof of purpose to exist.

!Bonus!: I’ll retouch on this here from other lessons as a reminder: every protagonist has two antagonists (Internal, and External). Because of this, every story has two climaxes (for lack of better terms: minor, and major).

The triumphant protagonist overcomes their dominant character flaw during the minor climax at the end of Act 2, which in turn provides them the capability to defeat the External antagonist during the major climax at the end of Act 3.

The tragic protagonist surrenders to their dominant character flaw during the minor climax at the end of Act 2, which in turn condemns them to losing against the External antagonist during the major climax at the end of Act 3.

The Internal antagonist the protagonist confronts during the minor climax at the end of Act 2 is the spiritual manifestation of their dominant character flaw inhibiting their growth.

The External antagonist the protagonist confronts during the major climax at the end of Act 3 is the physical manifestation of their dominant character flaw inhibiting their change.

Because it’s all about potential, baby, and whether the protagonist achieves it for better or worse.

ADRONJSMITLEY.BLOGSPOT.COM

Pen the Sword: the universal plot skeleton of every story ever told! Amazon: $6.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
STOMPING KITTENS: everything the aspiring writer needs to know on how best to plot and write their novel! Amazon: $8.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
Steal this Story!: how towrite great fiction with one stolen senrtence! Amazon: $6.99 paperback, $2.99 digital, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
Kinslayer: the true story of Cain and Abel. Amazon: $2.99 digital, $7.99 paperback, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!
Of Blood & Love — novella 1: the first in a 35+ novella series of Adron’s award-winning and bestselling Soothsayer Series. Amazon: $0.99 digital, $4.99 paperback, or FREE with Kindle Unlimited!

--

--

Adron J. Smitley

Blog for writers on everything plot, character, and story structure architecture at: adronjsmitley.blogspot.com