Yesterday, I was consulting on a script for a short, which had a great character arc. The main character gets over her flaw, which was established in the beginning of the script. Still, there was something that was missing. Yes, there was a good second-act journey, which corresponded with the main character's flaw, which had pushed the main character to confront her issues. However, by the time we got to the end of the script, and the resolution was reached -- or the dénouement, which it’s called by the French -- there was still something that didn’t sit right with me. Somehow, it seemed like the main character had resolved her issues too easily. She had worked, yes, been confronted with her issues. But there wasn’t that one last big blowout that had caused her to stand up to what she had really been dealing with, that which had been holding her back all along.
This particular script was very much a family drama, along the lines of the 1981 film, Ordinary People. The main character was having issues with her job, her relationships in general, as well as with her family, which was namely epitomized by her dealings with her sister. Basically, it became apparent that the main character’s core wound was the fact that her mother had committed suicide when she was a child and that her family had alienated themselves emotionally from her because they thought she was somehow responsible. The main character had basically given Mom the drugs to use to take her life with, but when this had happened, the main character had been a child. How would she have known that, when her mother told her she didn’t feel well and that she needed some pills to feel better, that she was going to ultimately take her own life?
My take on this was not that the main character was only grappling with the fact that the rest of the family thought that she was at fault for her mother’s suicide—but that she too thought that she was at fault. Guilt was her main core wound, the thing that she had been carrying around inside of her all these years, and which was impeding her from having a normal, happy life.
Core wound is a term I learned while I was at Writers Boot Camp. I can’t remember how it was defined there exactly, but if I define it for you right now, the main character’s core wound is the pain the main character is suffering from, which is specifically causing her to act out. The main character flaw -- or misbehavior, as Writers Boot Camp calls it -- is the action/s the main character takes to exhibit this wound. You need your main character to have a proactive flaw, because otherwise you don't have any action. You can’t base a movie around the fact that your mother told you she didn’t love you at five years old, but you can base it around the action that, as soon as you reached adulthood, because of that formative experience, you have decided to act out by never committing in any relationship. The same goes for having witnessed your father beating your mother at a young age; now your movie is how you are vengeful toward men as a result. The character flaw of being fearful needs to have been caused by something specific that happened in that main character’s life; but your story is about the journey of them then overcoming that flaw. However, at some point, during the course of your story, your main character must also address the source of their misbehavior, which is encapsulated in the darkest hurt they have inside of them, e.g., their core wound
The main character's core wound should often be healed right before the final confrontation. Or perhaps it is healed during that confrontation, but the main character cannot triumph over the opponent until it is healed. The core wound is the last one thing that is holding the main character back from being her true self, from shedding off the mistakes of the past, and thus experiencing the resolution of the film, the dénouement. Therefore, it is important to have this component in your story, or your story's resolution will come off as trite.