Monday, April 02, 2007

By the Hair 'n Heels


Samson and Delilah.
Peter Paul Rubens, c. 1609.
Modello, oil on wood.
Cincinnati Art Museum.

And, of course, there was Achilles and his tendons.

Not quite the same as a fatal flaw, unless one has the o'er vaulting ambition to write tragedy, an Agonistes.

Come to think of it, Samson would make a great soap.

Weaknesses, frailties, faults, vulnerabilities.
Not quite the same thing as being flattened by fate.

Obedient to the dictum to make our main characters deep, writers sometimes thrown up a phobia du jour.

At one time, nearly every heroine I read about in a certain imprint had a fear of heights. Or a fear of thunderstorms. Or horses.
Usually as an excuse to thrust her into the hero's arms, make him feel all manly and protective. Later, of course, she might also be forced to face her deepest fear, though that was not always mandatory.

On the other hand, in a zealous effort to make a character complex, writers may construct a character with so many fixations, s/he comes across as merely neurotic, a mess; and, consequently, a pain in the ass for the hero/ine to deal with later.

Maybe that is why - if my girl is going to be haunted by ghosts from her past - I decided to make them real ones.

23 comments:

S. W. Vaughn said...

Great points, Bernita! It's tough to sympathize with neurotic messes. Some of us don't have time for basket cases... :-)

I love this: Maybe that is why - if my girl is going to be haunted by ghosts from her past - I decided to make them real ones. Fanstastic!

Dave said...

There is something to be said for a Tyler Durden character as hero of a book.

Another character I admire is Jason Bourne. He's sort of good but not good and completely screwed up mentally.

Look at the LAW and ORDER franchise where Lennie Briscoe outlasted several partners by being a drunk, a curmudgeon, a racist pig (sort-of), having a drug addicted daughter, and other misfortunes.

Heroes and heroines shouldn't be perfect. they should have flaws, lots of flaws.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Sonya.
Who wants to read about someone one would avoid whenever possible?
Having said that, Nathan is goung to have to come back as a ghost - or else I am foresworn.

Getting tired of miserable characters with cliche difficulties, Dave.
And misfortunes, or likes and dislikes, are not to be confused with flaws.
Personality traits that make them individuals are good, but basket cases ( to quote Sonya) are a pain in the behind. I can quickly lose interest in eratz tragic heroes.

Jaye Wells said...

"Who wants to read about someone one would avoid whenever possible?"

Totally agree. I also find it funny I don't include vampires, assassins or demons in that category.

Bailey Stewart said...

totally agree when it comes to dramas, but comedies, when done right,can have all of the neurotic characters - the keyword is "when it's done right".

Ballpoint Wren said...

I always thought Maxim deWinter was a neurotic mess. His second bride even more so.

And I think men can get away with being neurotic messes more easily than women. Look at TV shows like "Monk" and "House"

Bernita said...

I also would not include such in the same category, Jaye! Different class all together.

Yep, Bailey, comedy gets the bye.For a while.

Wonder if that's because we don't expect as much sense from men, Bonnie?
Or if, indeed, it's a reflection of the tragic hero theme?

bunnygirl said...

The problem as I see it is when a character has "issues" tacked onto them just for the sake of giving them flaws, as if character flaws are something you can by at the notions shop as decoration for your heroine's costume.

Character flaws should come out naturally in the story, because they'll have some real bearing on the plot. In fact, I would venture that unless someone's got relevant character flaws, there is no plot.

Random angst and free-floating anxiety only tell me that the character is self-absorbed. Any teenager can have issues, but that in and of itself doesn't make a person interesting.

Nicole Kelly said...

I sometimes think that writers get to the end of their novel, and then someone tells them that their protangonist is too perfect and needs to be taken down a notch. So the writer goes back and adds a ridiculous fear/neurosis/etc.

Bernita said...

"The problem as I see it is when a character has "issues" tacked onto them just for the sake of giving them flaws, as if character flaws are something you can by at the notions shop as decoration for your heroine's costume."

Oh, yes! That is very well put, Bunny!
You are likely correct, too. Unless these characteristics - whether flaws or strengths - motivate the characters in some way, at some time, why are they there?

That might well be so, Nicole. One does get the feeling, at time, that certain flaws, etc. are stuck on with duct tape.

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I agree...my sympathy falls away real fast when they don't learn the first or second time...there's no time limit on stupid! LOL!

Seeley deBorn said...

It's fiction we can do whatever we want.

Further to that logic, The Man insisted I have flying unicorns help the heroine escape from a locked room. I opted for the mundane and built a secret passage.

Personally, I'm fond of backstory. I write a ton of it before I start writng (to get it out of my system mostly) and discover the strangest tidbits. I think (hope) it makes the flaws seem part of the characters, rather than tacked on for drama's sake.

Steve G said...

A small flaw can add to a character. I believe when it becomes overly noticeable is when it becomes distracting.

raine said...

Yep, Bailey, comedy gets the bye.For a while.

(Snort!--imagining Bernita with axe in hand and hourglass before her...) Think I need coffee...

A lot of it is part of the 'simplified formula' school of writing, too, I think.
Maybe one flaw reserved for novellas and short length fiction, neuroses for single-title length?

But quite right on all counts, Bernita.

Gabriele C. said...

My characters are too busy doing things (like fighting off Romans, hacking a way through the German woods, or whatever) to mope about unloving daddies, more succesful rivals and arachnophobia. Some of them do have issues, but it's not the only thing about them in the story.

Bernita said...

I'll tolerate many flaws, Bonnie, stupid is not one of them.

"It's fiction we can do whatever we want."
Hee. That reads more like a statement of claim than logic.
One of the advantages, I suppose, of fully realizing a character before one begins, is smooth integration of character with plot.

It's even more distracting, Steve, when one is used as a deux ex machina.

Bernita said...

My word, Raine.
You have a lovely mind!
Your rule might work quite well, actually, to control Bunny's "random angst and free-floating anxiety"!

Bernita said...

Oh, nicely put, Gabriele!
Too often these internal fusses,intended to make the character "interesting," or "relatable" end up diverting the plot entirely. Almost a confusion of cause and effect.

Gabriele C. said...

It's Homer's fault. He got famous with an epic about a guy who's sitting and sulking in his tent for the better part of the book. :)

December Quinn said...

Yay!

It's hard to find interesting fears and flaws for characters that don't make tem seem like idiots or shrinking violets.

LadyBronco said...

I dunno...
Personally, I enjoy seing a character that is well-rounded, with regular flaws like the rest of us that don't make him/her seem a total neurotic mess.

I also get tired of reading about characters with overblowen cliche difficulties, Bernita. I will put a book down, never to pick it up again, if it is even a little bit overdone.

Sam said...

My phobia is spiders. Eww!!! Skittery, ittery spiders.
I can't understnad phobias about snakes or mice, lol. Love snakes and mice.
If a hero or heroine is neurotic, I usually have problems reading the story, unless the problem is either faced, resolved, or downplayed so it doesn't take over the book.

Bernita said...

"He got famous with an epic about a guy who's sitting and sulking in his tent for the better part of the book. :)"
~chokes~
Love that, Gabriele!

Is indeed, December!

Think you've put your finger on an important point, Lady B.
A character who is likeable - or interesting or fascinating - before we see their dirty underwear, perhaps. Dog first; tail, later.

Or, as Sam mentions, if it's tail first,make sure we get to see the dog.

Don't think I have any, Sam, though there are certain creatures I don't LIKE - out of their natural habitat and when they invade mine.