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The Gearbox: A Diamond in the… Diamonds?

by on Jun.22, 2009, under The Gearbox

Hello, and welcome back to The Gearbox: the writing column where I tell you what I want to read! This week, I’d like to cover one of my pet peeves: perfection. That’s right- perfection. I hate hate HATE it, and I’m going to explain to all of you why it sucks. So let’s tuck in and I’ll start my post with a story:

Once upon a time, there was this awesome dude, who was a great swordsman, really good looking and super-funny. He always knew what to say, and he was a total hit with the ladies. Then one day, an evil villain came along and took the great swordsman’s girlfriend! The villain took her high into the mountains, where no man had ever climbed before. When the great swordsman heard about the kidnapping, he climbed up there, punched the villain in the face, made a couple of cracks at the villain’s expense and took the girl home. The girlfriend also said some pretty funny stuff. The end.

Unless you’re being ironic, that’s a terrible story.

There are a couple of reasons why that story might have sucked, so let’s narrow them down to get a root-cause analysis. What could I have added to make the story better?

1) Better combat and special effects. Some visual flair! Okay, Michael Bay- calm down now. If I added a lot of style, even if I altered the plot to be not so ridiculous, I think folks would still identify with the villain.

2) A more believable villain? Well, now we’re getting a little closer. I never will understand why villains are so into kidnapping girlfriends. In the world of fiction, I bet there are actual legal codes pertaining specifically to the abduction of a significant other. However, even a believable antagonist taking believable actions won’t work. In fact, I would wager that it would cause you to like the villain a LOT more than the hero.

3) Character flaws for the hero and his posse! There! That’s it! It’s so obvious (especially given the title of the post)!

Here’s the truth of the matter: It’s not obvious. It’s not even close to obvious to both aspiring and published writers alike, and the blandness of perfection seems to sweep over the world of fiction like a blight. Beautiful people of inviolate perfection seem to pop up left and right, leaving me with a feelings of both boredom and insecurity. If you haven’t seen what I’m talking about, let me give you two major examples.

1) Hyper-power: This category of perfection is reserved for characters with absolute physical prowess that seems to climb to an even higher state whenever they are threatened. These are your Superman characters. These are your Gokus. One might think that awe-inspiring displays of power make for an interesting story, but deep down, I don’t think that’s what people want to read about. I don’t think people are into shock-and-awe at all, in fact. I think they want clever characters, and brute force characters who simply “evolve” every time there is a problem are the opposite of clever. They never use their brains, so the audience is never impressed.

2) Monofilament Tongue: This category of perfection is so insidiously subtle, so oft overlooked, that some of the best writers in the world fall prey to its clutches. Have you ever seen a character who always knows what to say, no matter what the situation may be? Have you ever seen a character that never stops joking, even in the heat of a battle? That character may be beaten to a pulp, that character may lose his friends, but at least that character always has a joke. Yeah. That’s a type of perfection too, and it’s as bland as bland can be.

The reason why characters with the sharpest of tongues and wits are such a problem is that dialogue is a battle, too. It is often times this repartee that drives a story to the more interesting reaches of plot, and yet so many writers seem to overlook what creates that drama. When a character is in a heated conversation, and they no longer know what to say, that character is flapped! It’s like the other guy reached out in a fight and stabbed the character. Would you have a boxer who is never punched? No. Would you have an action hero who is never shot? No! Why do writers settle for the mediocrity of having a character who always gets in a dignified, witty response before a scene is over? Those characters should occasionally be dumbfounded, dang it!

So remember, friends, flaws make the world go round. Does a character with invulnerable wit get on your nerves? Can you name some examples?

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