Monday, April 29, 2019

Remembering the Flaws In Our Heroes

I've mentioned this before, but it's worth discussing again. I gain a lot of the material or my writing from the people around me. The Rogue's Gallery of people in my tribe provides ample material for any character I want to create, and if you knew the people I knew, you would be able to see that every character I write looks like a mismatched bunch of parts from everyone I know.

The sad part is that I rarely use the best parts.

Conflicting interests make compelling characters
I have friends who are first-responders and medical professionals, and several of them have saved lives and watched people die in front of them. Some of my friends are teachers who have taught an entire generation of kids and are heroes in their eyes. And needless to say, many of my friends are parents to a bunch of children that range from wonderful to sticky to scary. These are all character traits that I respect and even envy, and would never talk trash about for a second.

But as characters, are they very readable?

The challenge of writing entertaining characters is writing ones that stand out. Main characters need to have qualities that are interesting, and interesting does not always equal amazing. Is a teacher who wins awards and is loved by his students really interesting? We've seen this - it's very familiar, but that's not where the interesting part is. A brilliant nurse, a loving parent - very nice, but what makes this character stick?

Nobody is saying that a main character can't fit the model of the inspirational teacher or the heroic first-responder; they just need a little help. There are a lot of routes to make these characters stand out, but we will look at two - the Mismatch, and the Fallen Hero.

The Mismatch is a fun one to play out on the page. This is the magical, gifted person who is really at the top performer in the field. Insightful and ingenious, they are respected by their peers. However, beyond that perfect world is an aspect of their life that is as chaotic as their career is masterful. The counselor who has a horrible time with relationships. A teacher who can't connect with their own kids. Any equal and opposite situation creates a very fertile ground for character depth. More to the point, a part of the hero's journey can be trying to match up the parts of life that just do not go together. That could be a book on its own.

The Fallen Hero is another interesting route to take because the character's special quality becomes their vulnerability. We can take a respected twenty-year cop on his way to making lieutenant, and bring out that one mistake they made as a rookie - the one time they buried evidence for someone, and now it's all come back at the worst possible time. As they try to make sure that one mistake doesn't ruin their career, the problem begins to snowball, growing out of control with every page. It's a winner every time because it humanizes the greater-than-believable character, and makes them likable in their newfound humanity.

Any kind of character can be interesting, as long as we remember to showcase the human side of them. Amazing characters are alright, but they aren't strong enough to turn pages.

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