I am a (shamelessly) devoted reader of Mythcreants, so first I want to thank you guys for the always wonderful advice!
Now, to the meat of the sandwich: I keep wondering this, but do ALL character flaws need to be overcome?
In my book, the protagonist has been raised in an unpredictable environment, developing a lack of empathy (ergo the flaw of unmercifulness). She thinks duty must be placed before any emotional need, since the “Family” (something like alternate-Earth mafia) saved and educated her. She is vengeful, since it keeps opportunists at bay.
She will have a character arc about her unhealthy view on sacrifice and duty. However, her other flaws are what has kept her alive in a world riddled with “politics” and death.
Should I change that about her?
Hey Danny, great to hear from you! We’re flattered by your praise and will do our best to answer your question.
In the abstract, no, not all character flaws need to be overcome. If a flaw doesn’t seriously impede the character, then it’s just part of their personality, and it might seem a little odd if the character suddenly decided they needed to change.
On the other hand, if a flaw causes the character serious problems, then the audience will expect that flaw to at least be addressed, if not necessarily overcome. Consider Lt. Commander Worf from the Deep Space Nine episode Rules of Engagement. Worf is on trial (an extradition hearing, technically) because he fired on a Klingon ship without identifying it and that ship turned out to be a civilian transport. This episode highlights Worf’s flaw of being too quick to use violence, and we know that it hindered him, since he blew up the wrong ship and is now on trial.
Worf is eventually cleared of the crime through plot shenanigans, but at the end of the episode, he and Sisko still have a moment when they acknowledge that Worf made the wrong choice and needs to learn to be less trigger happy. His flaw isn’t totally overcome in that episode, but he takes a step toward mitigating it. Of course, it also works to have a character completely deal with their flaw. This is just an option if you want to be more subtle.
In your story, it’ll come down to which aspects of the protagonist’s personality end up hindering her. If, for example, she takes vengeance on someone she shouldn’t have and it makes her situation worse, readers will expect some kind of acknowledgement to provide satisfaction. That doesn’t necessarily mean the protag has to stop being vengeful, but she should probably modify her ways a little or else the audience will feel like they were left hanging.
Something else that can cause audiences to expect a character to overcome their flaw is when that flaw causes them to do something obviously immoral. For instance, if your protag decided to get vengeance on her enemy’s entire family, that would seem like something that needs to be addressed even if it doesn’t directly hinder her. Of course, it’s also likely to make a lot of the audience just hate the protag and want her to fail, so we generally recommend avoiding that sort of situation unless it’s critical to your story.
Hope that answers your question!
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