Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Complicateder and complicateder

And another thing. Making villains more than paper-mache bad guys certainly adds depth ... in which case, making protagonists more than shining and infallible good guys has the same effect.

For some reason adding shadows and texture to protagonists seems hard. Wouldn't it be hard to imagine Luke Skywalker going home and backhanding C3PO head over heels for making one more inane observation, you damned shiny-pate toolbox? That'll teashu to ... where's my darwongian brandy? Gimme that bo'le!

Okay, Luke's a bad example. Imagine your typical tough-talking, unpopular-but-painfully-hip, beautiful-but-doesn't-know-it vampire-hunting, demon-slaying, fairy-attracting/repelling, Glock-packing, no-nonsense-taking, half-immortal/not high school girl. I've been waiting for someone to point out that this character can now take her place in Central Casting with white-hatted cowboys, sniveling mustachioed villains, and lovable rogues, but so far it's just me.

Let's say this girl -- call her Az'Kikerella -- goes home after a tough day in the trenches of high school biology and clique warfare (to say nothing of the otherworldly creatures who surround her like paparazzi) and realizes she can't turn off the violence and beats her little brother because he cries too much.

Too much violence? Okay, bad example. She goes home and hits her parents' liquor cabinet because she hates being a tool of destruction.

Worse? She goes home, changes, and spends the night on the street corner to finance her ammo habit.

Less bad? She goes home to a loving family, but cries herself to sleep because she's so tired, so tired, and the monsters never stop coming.


I am being unfair to this character type and to the many good stories with a similar character in them. But my point is that making somebody -- hero, villain, bystander, whatever -- all one thing or all another is boring and unrealistic. It's also easy, and we should be suspicious of anything that appears easy.

More? Okay! A guard at a concentration camp in World War II has a fondness for painting watercolors featuring baby animals playing together.

A guard sings his infant son to sleep, then goes back to work at the death camp.

A soldier in an invading army pauses while plundering a ruined town, and falls to his knees at the sight of a stained glass window that has somehow survived the bombing of its church.

Some of these are examples of human depth, little details that help flesh out a character. And some of them are potentially plot-altering moments that can fundamentally shake our perception of who a character is, or what motivates him or her. Being shaken is good; the world is too full of tame stories.


Peter S said...

Arrr, matey! My comment got deleted...again! The gist: your post is cool and stuff.

S R Wood said...

Dang it, Blogger! This happens to me sometimes if I refresh before submitting. Now I select-all and copy before hitting any buttons. Saved my button several times.