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None of us are free: flawed characters and character flaws

King Arthur by Charles Ernest Butler

"A man doesn't become a hero until he can see the root of his own downfall." - Aristotle

King Arthur is flawed. His Knights of the Round Table are flawed That's why none of them is allowed to find the Holy Grail. Well, except for the pure and therefore slightly obnoxious Galahad (in other versions it's Parzival and he's a more palatable hero exactly because he has flaws to overcome). Flawed characters bring an interesting dynamic to the narrative because they are the authors of their own tragedy. The hero loses everything, not through an outside force, but as a result of his own choices or character defects. The textbook example of this, is Lancelot. The worthiest knight in the world, except for that pesky fling with Guinevere, he's barred from finding the Grail. Arthur's flaws are the source of his own downfall as well - and that of his realm with him.

Arthur's original sin

But what is Arthur's flaw exactly? First of all, passivity. He lets things happen that shouldn't. He's stubborn and in some versions he's a cheater to boot. But there's a deeper, darker sin. When he's younger, Arthur sleeps with Morgause - unaware that she's his half-sister. When he finds out about their son Mordred, he orders all children born on the day of Mordred's birth to be murdered (#nohalfmeasures). Mordred survives and brings the narrative tension of a revenge we know is going to happen (though he takes his time for it). In a way, Arthur fathered his own undoing.

I'm working on a novel (for about as long as Mordred takes for his revenge) that's a modern-day retelling of the King Arthur stories and specifically the Grail Quest, so flaws and flawed characters are a big deal in my book. The main characters each represent a Knight of the Round Table with shortcomings to match. My protagonist Sibyl stands for King Arthur and that makes her flaws all the more worth while. Unlike Arthur, she doesn't father her own undoing, rather it's the other way around, with the villain saving Sibyl from drowning and in that way shaping her. But she has Arthur's passivity. She's wary of conflict and watches things happen where she should intervene instead.

The Death of Arthur by John Garrick

Muddy motivations

The scene I've been working on recently has no equivalent in Arthurian romance. After being hurt, Sibyl lashes out and takes action where she shouldn't, betraying people. It's a mix of being hurt and wanting to hurt in return, self-preservation and the need to be admired and I struggled most with whether or not all these motivations should be clear.

That is perhaps the big difference with the source material. In Arthur's world, motivations are mostly clear. Arthur is ashamed of Mordred and tries to kill him. Lancelot feels guilty over loving Guinevere yet can't stay away. But in real life, our motivations are mostly messy. So, I chose to have some of Sibyl's impulses show while others remain more under the surface, as to create the muddy pool of incentives that we humans usually are. One thing's unchanged though: Sibyl's actions have consequences and most of them are as unforeseen as they are unwanted....

Release Notes: I'm working on my novel in sprints #agile. After each sprint I publish a blog by way of 'release notes', focusing on something that I wrote, researched or thought about in my sprint.

As for the title inspiration... #brothersolomonburke

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