MC Unique Ability/Critical Flaw in a Failure Story

Before I ask my question, let me set up the storyform I am working with that led to this question.

MC Dynamics:

OS Plot Dynamics:

OS Goal: Obtaining
MC/OS Problem: Uncontrolled

MC Unique Ability: Openness
MC Critical Flaw: Denial

This storyform represents my current understanding of my “Scientist wants to help the world with his discovery” story that I’ve described briefly in other threads here.

Unique Ability is described as the quality that makes the MC uniquely qualified to deal with the story’s problems.
Critical Flaw is the quality that undermines the MC’s effectiveness, specifically his Unique Ability.

I’m struggling to understand how UA/CF work in a failure story.

My first dilemma comes with the definition of UA. If this is what qualifies the MC to deal with the story’s problem or problems, is this referring to the OS Problem, the MC Problem, the OS Goal… or something else?

Next, if the story is a Failure story (as it is here), does this mean that the MC was NOT uniquely qualified to solve the story’s problem? Or do the UA/CF switch roles in a Failure story?

In my story, the MC ultimately “decides” to fail, because he learns that the world just isn’t ready for his discovery. I’m trying to figure out what role the UA/CF play in leading him to this final decision.

I also have an issue with calling something a “Flaw” (as in Critical Flaw) in a Personal Triumph (Change/Failure/Good) Story… It seems inappropriate to call something that leads to a personal triumph a “flaw,” unless this flaw is what loses out to the UA… but in a Failure story it seems that the UA should lose out.

I want to understand how UA/CF work in such a story and clarify how to implement them to lead my character to that decision point in a sensible, believable way.

Hi Rod,
I’m certainly no expert, but I have done a lot of thinking on these same questions since my story that I’m working is also Outcome: Failure & Judgement: Good.

One word of caution: Before delving into this further, if you haven’t already, you might want to try and outline your climax as well as possible without worrying about Unique Ability & Critical Flaw (or any Dramatica stuff, really). Just based on the cool ideas you shared in the other thread, I’d guess your muse might already know how a lot of this will work out at the MC’s Moment of Truth.

Anyway, I think the idea is that the Unique Ability may or may not be “useful” to the MC throughout the story (but it does need to be shown somehow a few times before the climax, so that it doesn’t seem contrived). So it may be shown as helping the MC deal with various problems (lower-case ‘p’ there). But once we get to the climax & moment of truth, the Unique Ability suddenly becomes extremely important – it is what makes the MC qualified to achieve the Story Goal; it’s why the story revolves around the MC. So yes, it is the OS Problem that is being solved in that case.

For a Failure story, you should show that the MC’s Unique Ability could have helped him achieve the Story Goal, if not for his Critical Flaw, which is what prevented the UA from working. For a Decision/Failure/Good story like we have, it seems most reasonable to make the Critical Flaw somehow tied to the Decision that results in Judgement of Good, but I don’t think this is totally necessary.

The Dramatica Pro help text under Critical Flaw also makes some interesting points about tying the use of Unique Ability and Critical Flaw with MC Growth. (It might be best to take this with a grain of salt until confirmed by an expert, as I think some of the Pro help text is a bit outdated; nevertheless it seems pretty valid to me.) Since you have a Stop character, you should show that the Critical Flaw “undoes” or scuttles the efforts of the Unique Ability, which almost brings about success, and would have if not for the Flaw. Whereas with a Start character, you would show the Critical Flaw preventing him from employing the UA.

I agree with you about the language of “Flaw” being somewhat misleading esp. for Failure/Good. But if you are foreshadowing the Flaw earlier in the story, maybe you would show it as more problematic then, even though it eventually helps him get a Good Judgement?

One thing I forgot to mention is that the Relationship Story Throughline is also part of the same intersection with OS & MC at the moment of truth when the Unique Ability & Critical Flaw become so important. That sounds complicated, but I think all it means is, that moment of truth ought to help resolve the problems with the Relationship between the MC & IC too.

It sort of has to I guess, because throughout the story the MC has been resisting the IC’s influence to Change, and now at the moment of truth he is either going to give in to that influence and Change, or not give in and remain Steadfast. And in the latter case, the IC will Change. So one way or another, the RS throughline kind of has to be resolved because one of them adopts the other’s viewpoint!

Thanks, Mike, for your replies… I’m not able to fully digest your ideas or write a full response right now… very busy… I’m still kind of confused about the whole thing, so I’m hoping for a few more replies from others as well, so that I can take it all in during the coming week when I have more time. Any more thoughts you may have on my questions will certainly be helpful!

The OS Problem and OS Goal. Anything to do with resolving the Overall Story Throughline. The UA/CF ties the MC to the OS. Tying the Towers of Story Structure Together

In a Failure story the MC Unique Ability loses out to the MC Critical Flaw. The forces behind the CF were too much for the UA to overcome.

So one way to look at this would be that your MC is really sensitive to people denying his claims. He is insecure and gets hurt when people deny his genius. His ability to make people open and listen to him is almost enough to save the day…but then he feels overwhelmed by a wave of denial and he gives in.

Just one way to do it.

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Thank you, Mike and Jim. I’m a lot clearer on this topic now. I’m grateful to you both for your help.

Jim, through your example, you made me realize the Critical Flaw doesn’t have to be an actual trait inherent in the MC. The “flaw” that contributes to his “failure” is something external to himself, and not under his control… This is a true epiphany for me! I hadn’t realized the CF could arise from an external source. Can the same be said for the Unique Ability?

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Hi Rod, I’m sure Jim will reply with 10 times the insight, but I thought you’d appreciate my opinion in the meantime.

I think in the case of Jim’s example there is an interplay between an internal attribute of the character and the external Denial. So his Critical Flaw is “Denial of my genius” or even “I can’t handle my genius being denied”, to make it a gist. Yes the Denial is external, but the reason it’s a Flaw is that it bothers him, and that is an inherent part of his character.

It might also help to read Chris Huntley’s answer to my question in Apply both the presence and ‘lack of’ to same story point / question? If you substitute Denial for Memory in Chris’s last example, you can see being denied is a valid way to use Dramatica’s Denial concept. This is true for any story point, as I understand it.


After reading your post, I’m starting to think that perhaps the CF can be either internal or external, or some mix of both. I can envision scenarios where someone denying my MC’s genius (this isn’t what I’m using in my story, by the way) would prevent them from giving him a grant, or prevent them from supplying other needed resources, etc… all based on their denial of the validity of his idea. I don’t think it always has to be an internal flaw.

Like you said, I’m sure Jim will be able to clear things up. But thank you for your thoughts. I really appreciate it!

Edit: I’m learning to appreciate Dramatica’s flexibility even more… Just have to keep in mind those internal/external states & processes, and the fact that any point can be positive or negative, abundant or scarce, attributes OF (something/someone) or attributed TO (something/someone), etc.

So, really, understanding that flexibility can help a writer emphasize/de-emphasize any point, and make the whole thing look exactly as he wants through storytelling.

It really helps to participate in an online community like this where I can bounce my ideas/epiphanies/misunderstandings off others and get their take on things.

Dramatica is the gift that keeps on giving, it seems. I’m always discovering new little things that make me appreciate it even more!

If UA is unrelated to why the MC adopts the solution to his personal problem to get the Good ending, why does the “Rainman” analysis of MC UA seem to be related to Charlie’s Good judgement and not the Story Goal of Failure? Wouldn’t his Openness work against the goal of obtaining the inheritance?

Main Character Unique Ability: Charlie’s willingness
toward openness forces him to re-evaluate his relationship with his
father, value Raymond as family, give up his selfish desire for half the
inheritance, and put Raymond’s welfare first.

I’m dealing with a Change/Failure/Good storyform too.

You have to realize that some of the story examples were written twenty years ago, and some by interns who didn’t have a full understanding or appreciation of the theory.

The story points within a storyform are related holistically with one another, so I’m sure in some respects, the Main Character Unique Ability impacts the Story Judgment of Good.

That said, I think you’re right in questioning the StoryEncoding listed in the storyform.

If it were me, I would say his Openness and willingness to put with whatever makes it possible for him to get closer and closer to the inheritance, but it is the fact that he can’t Deny his feelings for his brother that undermines that openness (and he can’t Deny the hurt from his father).

It would be nice to clean these up some day.