Not those you insert in some machine, but the ones that, waking or dreaming, play incessantly in one’s head.
You have your own. There’s the sports one: instead of making a double play in the last inning of a tied game, you drop the ball. Or you’re an unprepared teacher, and, one by one, the students exit a classroom with multiple doors. The list goes on: you are—or aren’t—really pregnant. They’re taking your PhD back. You’ve lost your home, job, partner, etc.
If all that’s farfetched, why would you—or your character—fear it, consciously or otherwise? According to neurosurgeon Wilder Graves Penfield, most of us at least occasionally replay tapes from childhood that remain intact—without benefit of the experience and insight that’s happened since. So this syndrome in a character feels instinctively credible.
Further, if those tapes surpass the superficial or trite, they engage readers quickly. Here’s why:
Characters must have emotional needs, wounds and skeletons in the closet. Factors like these will cause tension and keep the reader interested until the end.
Readers are nosy; they want to delve into a character’s private affairs. In the real world, we’re rarely able to snoop to our heart’s content. In fiction, we have a license to look around, to open up the secret drawers and hiding places. Be sure to give your readers a chance to do just that. — Jessica Page Morrell, Between the Lines
In “A Character's Fatal Flaw: The Vital Element for Bringing Characters to Life,” Coach Dara Marks analyzes why people hang on and how this drives story: eves
This unyielding commitment to old, exhausted survival systems that have outlived their usefulness, and resistance to the rejuvenating energy of new, evolving levels of existence and consciousness is what I refer to as the fatal flaw of character….
The FATAL FLAW is a struggle within a character to maintain a survival system long after it has outlived its usefulness….
As essential as change is to renew life, most of us resist it and cling rigidly to old survival systems because they are familiar and "seem" safer. In reality, even if an old, obsolete survival system makes us feel alone, isolated, fearful, uninspired, unappreciated, and unloved, we will reason that it's easier to cope with what we know than with what we haven’t yet experienced….
Identifying the fatal flaw instantly clarifies for the writer what the internal journey of the character will be. This is no small thing, because once the writer is clear about what the protagonist needs in terms of internal growth it will clarify the external conflict as well.
To delve deeply into the “Old Tapes” your characters play, explore your own. What do you cling to what’s no longer useful or relevant? Then ponder what freezes your character(s) in the past. How does that compulsion manifest in bad choices, misspent energy, and unattainable goals? In other words, what’s the “Fatal Flaw,” and how does it escalate both tension and microtension?