The Gearheart – A Free Audiobook

Tag: flaws

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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The Gearbox: The Role of Character Flaws

by on Feb.25, 2009, under The Gearbox

Welcome to The Gearbox.  Each Wednesday, I’ll post a little writing theory discussion, and you guys can weigh in and tell me I’m full of it.  I’ll try to reveal to you the tools and inner workings of my story, and you can tell me if my torque wrench needs replacing or if my sprockets are corroded.

Hopefully, you’ve had a chance to listen through the first episode, and you’ve gotten acquainted with the characters.  I realize that there are a lot of them (five), and that we didn’t get much time with them.  In fact, none of them had more than about four lines apiece!  However, I hope that Initiate Andrews’s character has come slightly into focus.

I wrote Jonathan to be who he was because I despise perfect characters.  Rather, I have something of a disdain for characters whose only flaw is that they are “distant” or “brooding.”  This includes a lot of stock-standard male anime leads.  They are always beautiful, talented and intelligent, in addition to being potent fighters.  Their built-in flaws are that they are “bad boys” or “too focused.”  In other words, their flaws are that they are too awesome.  Hamlet may have had all of those qualities, but he was also a raving psychopath who made a fool of himself in front of others.

This brings me to Jonathan’s flaw (or at least the only flaw demonstrable after one episode):  Jonathan Andrews has poor mental equipment for the serious tasks ahead of him.  Jonathan needs to find a way to be serious and graceful, combat-minded and quick to solve problems.  He needs to learn decorum and politics.  At the outset, his lack of these things should be somewhat apparent.  He’s not a very good magical secret agent, but he is special, and the Seekers are stuck with him.

So I’ve talked about the fact that Jonathan does have a character flaw, but why?  Why not make him Superman?  Why not make him some Adonis with a MENSA card?  Why are those options totally boring?

That’s because stories are about growth and learning.  Well, at least, good ones are. Gaining wisdom is as integral to the human condition as a journey over long distances.  In fact, a physical journey is just an analogue the growth of the human spirit.  To have a main character who begins the story at the end state, who never learns and who never needs to make exceptions- well, that’s like saying that a movie is only good for the twist ending.  Once you know the twist, all points inbetween are revealed to you.  After that, why bother watching the movie. (Are you reading this, thriller-directors?)

We as a society don’t want to read about the men and women who are simply better than us, who have triumphed even before the story begins.  Rather, we want our storytellers to help us understand our human potential, and show us that anyone can be great.

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