Going Overboard with the Flaws (or STOP *&%$ING UP YOUR CHARACTERS TO MAKE THEM COOLER!!!!!!!!)
The Rest Will Be On Wednesday ... You're Lucky to Get Anything at All Right Now
Week #4: Going Overboard With the Flaws (or STOP *&%$ UP YOUR CHARACTERS TO MAKE THEM LOOK COOLER!!!!!!!!)
I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but you and I are rather popular and quite the money maker in the box offices these days. So much so that they’re trying to make every hero under the sun more dark, more brooding, more … like Batman.
I say, give the people what they want.
I’m a huge fan of Justsomerandomguy on Youtube. The guy (and Justsomerandomgal and their producer, Justsomerandomcat) is hysterical. He’s the one who makes those “Hi, I’m a Marvel and I’m a DC” videos, pairing up Superman and Spider-man or other heroes together and having them compare their movies. Sometimes he does mini episodes, such as when a chipper Deadpool teams up with an unwilling Rorschach for a buddy cop show with their own theme song, or fake movie trailers replacing Kirk and Spock with Spidey and Batman for a new spin on the most recent “Star Trek” movie.
But what I especially love are the movies he makes with the action figures. He writes a whole script, does all of the voices and camera work, and Randomgal designs the sets and costumes and acting and, seriously, these little movies are a million times better than the real crap that’s out there. What’s funny is that these characters are fully aware that they don’t really exist outside of books and movies.
Which leads me to the quote.
Finding a moment to myself and unable to start writing right away, I decided to rewatch a couple of Randomguy episodes. When I got to episode 4 of the “Happy Hour” series, I stopped and rewound one particular scene about three or four times, listening carefully to the dialogue.
It was Joker taunting Batman, telling him that since Batman was so popular in the movies these days, every Hollywood studio that was producing another superhero movie was purposely making their character more dark and disturbing. It reminded me of when “Superman Returns” was about to be released. I was nervous when the director and the producer both said that they made Superman’s costume (and Spider-man’s, “coincidentally”) darker to show that he was tougher, meaner, more believable, more relatable.
Bright, colorful costumes made the heroes look too brave, too confident. They had too much self-esteem. Nothing could get them down. They couldn’t fail at anything. Supposedly, they believed that the “public” wouldn’t be able to relate to the heroes—which is a driving factor behind why they gave Superman a son, too. Us emotionless, brain-dead movie goers could neeeeeeeeeeeeever relate to the Man of Steel. Uh-uh. That is simply not possible! So why don’t we make him vulnerable by giving him a kid? That why people could “relate” and feel bad and concerned for Supes.
There’s no reason to keep knocking these characters down a peg or a few thousand. They already have physical or emotional or psychological problems. So why do you need to add more? Why do you wheat grass, lime seed, celery heart, acacia berry juice smoothie swilling jackasses think that you need to make our heroes more “imperfect?”
I’ve been seeing this more and more in fanfic with original characters. It’s my guess that sometimes the author is so fearful that their character would be viewed as a Mary-Sue/Gary-Stu that they decide to fling in some horrible stuff to make the OC more acceptable, to compensate for their perfections.
What a load of crap.
Good original characters are complex. They have a lot going on. That doesn’t mean you need to turn them into Quasimodo. You shouldn’t have to feel that your OCs should always be overweight, or that they need a limp or that their powers are severely limited. They don’t have to be unattractive, they don’t need to have bad attitudes, they don’t need tragic histories all the time. You shouldn’t have to use flaws to say, “I’m sorry if she sounds Mary-Sueish.” That’s not right.
In my last post I talked about evolving your character in a positive way. Now I’m going to help you give your character a more complex personality, without going overboard on the flaws.
PART 1: WHAT ARE FLAWS?
A flaw is described as being or having something undesirable. It could mean that something is in some way defective or imperfect or deficient.
All of us have flaws. We know that. We also know that a good character is made better because of their flaws. If they don’t have flaws, then they’re too perfect and not believable. Imperfections make a character complex and interesting.
Too many imperfections make a character annoying or aggravating.
Veteran fanfic (or original fiction too) writers and the ever growing crowd of newbies have learned that it is a bad, bad, very bad thing to make their OCs perfect. Never mind the fact that the proverbial torch and pitchfork wielding mob would gather together at the merest hint of a Mary-Sue, but because these writers realize that a good character can mess up or be imperfect.
This isn’t necessarily a good thing. Fanfic vets and newbies know now that they have to screw their characters up some, but boy, can they go overboard. They create an awesome character with all these powers or skills, but then the authors try to tear the OCs down for fear of ridicule. In their mind they believe that a great OC is acceptable only if they’ve punished it somehow, if they throw it down and trample it enough that their audience would look at it and deem it not-so-Mary-Sue-ish.
Luke Skywalker is a great example of a flawed character. Here’s a picture from the first real Star Wars movie—NOT The Phantom Menace … save for young Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon Jinn and the hottie badass Darth Maul, I refuse to acknowledge that film’s existence.
Anyway, back on track. This is young Luke. He’s a nice kid. Kind of whiny. Occasionally dejected. Good pilot. Can bullseye womp rats in his T-16 back home. Eager. Loyal. Brave. Extremely talented in the Force. Can be pretty brash and doesn’t always think through his plans before he does something. http://disney.wikia.com/wiki/Luke_Skywalker
Now flash forward to his new incarnation in the early ‘90s. http://www.comicvine.com/images/1300-2082745
Now what is he? Totally screwed up. He’s an amazing Jedi Knight, but he’s gone a little crazy. He has more power than he can handle. He’s darker than he used to be. Luke’s gotten so strong that he can crush and collapse an AT-AT with a thought. He’s gotten aggressive. He’s confrontational. He’s still loyal to his sister and friends, but after Endor Luke’s mind is beginning to crack. He’s beginning to realize that he is slowly sliding to the Dark Side but rather than heeding Obi-Wan’s advice, Luke boldly faces it down, and it nearly destroys him.
Comparing the two Lukes, you can obviously see who the Mary-Sue is here. Young Luke starts off as a good kid. He almost mutates into a monster twenty years later. When we compare the stupid Mary-Sue Syndrome thesis, you can see the similarities. He’s gone from too sweet to too scary. Remember this as we go on.
There are so many different negative things I’ve been finding in MS characters that each flaw has its own category in this post:
· Tragic History (will explain next)
· Flaws in Appearance
· Flaws in Character and Personality
· Flaws in Physical Ability
· Flaws in Learning/Training
· Flaws (or Weakness) in Power/Strength
· Flaws in Romance
You might want to keep your notebooks ready.
PART 2: TRAGIC HISTORY
This one is everywhere. True, every character needs a history. There are characters that need a horrible past in order to either motivate them or give reasons for why they are like they are. That doesn’t always have to be the case.
Many comic book characters have tragic histories: Batman’s parents were murdered in front of him. Spider-man came home to find his Uncle Ben murdered, and then his girlfriend Gwen Stacey was killed. Luke Skywalker’s aunt and uncle were killed by stormtroopers … then Obi-Wan Kenobi was killed … then he lost his hand … and his mother died in childbirth … and there was that thing about his father becoming one of the scariest bastards the universe has ever known … and then Luke himself started to go nuts …
And then you should read the books.
The reoccurring tragic themes in OCs are often:
· Death of a loved one
· Abandoned or orphaned
· Grew up in a physically abusive household
· Was kidnapped
· Was a slave who escaped or was eventually freed
· Has a dark secret
· Has an evil parent
· Is a criminal
· Suffered a sexual assault
· Suffered sexual molestation
· Was born as the result of a sexual assault
· Was betrayed by a loved one or friend
· Was tortured horrifically
· Dishonored family
· Murdered someone
· Had a prolonged illness
· Experimented on
· Suffers substance abuse
· Manipulated by someone
· Come from poor background
· Suffered a major defeat
· Was evil but had change of heart
A lot of this clichéd stuff. We’ve seen it so many times from TV and books, it’s natural to say to ourselves, “Well, that’s what a good character is, then. This how I should be writing.”
The flaw (sorry) in this argument is that authors are messing up their OCs to make them more sympathetic, to make them look less Mary-Sueish and more believable. People go overboard with this sort of stuff, and now it’s led the rise of what I call the Anti-Sue. These characters are almost the exact opposite of what the traditionally perky MS would be. They’re totally and beyond a doubt screwed up people. The absolute worst things have happened to them, and keep happening to them. And it almost always has to do with what has happened to them in their personal histories.
DEATH OF LOVED ONE: Someone that the OC is close to dies, most often through murder. Parents are almost always the ones who are killed, but no matter who the important person is, the OC usually witnesses it or arrives too late to stop it. Thus begins the quest for vengeance.
ABANDONED OR ORPHANED: A very large amount of OCs out there have been either orphaned or abandoned by family members as small children. Typically, they’re left as babies to be found in the woods, where they’re often discovered by a wandering warrior/ sorceress/knight/assassin/soldier of fortune/kindly villager who usually delivers the child to a generally benevolent king or queen. The king or queen then turns the child into some kind of warrior or bodyguard, seeing to it that she or he is the best in the land and no one can top them. They are then duty-bound to always protect the royal family.
PHYSICAL ABUSE: The OC grows up in a severely abusive household. They usually suffer in silence, enduring thousands of scars, sometimes afraid to act, other times accepting the abusive stoically and plotting for the time to escape or fight back. They often throw themselves on top of their siblings to protect them. They’re sometimes brave to the point of being defiant. When they’re on their own, they’ll either shrug off what has happened to them or seethe silently throughout the whole story.
KIDNAPPING: OCs are frequently kidnapped and raised in secret to become a mighty fighter or a powerful magic-wielder as part of a secret society. They’ll be the best out of them all, and probably will be the meanest one out of them all—even if the people who took her/him did it to save their lives.
SLAVERY: There are stories where the OC was a slave and was badly mistreated by some cruel master who absolutely has to be one of the most evil characters in the story. The OC suffers for years until they escape or they’re freed. They might live as fugitives but often in the two short years they’ve traveled they’ve actually become very skilled in fighting and are rarely beaten. They may or may not be mentally messed up but people feel pity for them because they were once enslaved.
BANISHMENT: They’ve been banished from their home because they have done something that is considered unacceptable for their society. They might have dishonored their family, might have committed treason, might have killed someone, might have threatened someone, might be a thief … the list goes on and on.
And for any of these reasons they might be considered a fugitive and could be killed on sight. They keep this all a secret from the canon characters until the OC is caught and the others rush to free him/her.
DARK SECRET: The OC has a secret that could somehow spell doom for all of the characters involved. They might be the child of someone dangerous, they might have a curse, whatever. In the end, the “dark secret” comes out and wreaks havoc, but is then conquered by the OC.
EVIL PARENTS: A popular theme with the OC is that one or both of their parents is evil. Frequently, the OC is the child of the big bad guy in the universe the author is writing about. More often than not, these kids are good, totally the opposite of their parents. They always join the good guys and are typically the ones who defeat the boss.
CRIME: Sometimes the OC is a bit of a thug. They’re big, scary and violent. They might have served time and when they’re released, they’re ostracized from society. When the canon characters meet him, the OC turns out to have a heart of gold—one that he didn’t steal.
This is hardly ever discussed at length, but now and again writers throw that in to give the OC a darker edge without being too dangerous.
RAPE: This one drives me insane. I’m being honest when I say that I see double and my head pounds and my heart races because I get so goddamned outraged that people think that, in order to make sure that their female OC is not a Mary-Sue, they have to have this girl or woman violated sexually. And this might be a long section, but read it. It’s the only way I’ve ever been able to drive this thing home.
It’s a huge trend and for God’s sake I cannot see and will never see the logic in using rape as a way to make a character better. Why do it? What is the attraction?
This theme has been going on for a long time. It’s something more than frequently seen in comics, books and movies. A phenomenal female character is created, she has extreme power, is highly skilled, is intelligent and good natured and has more power than most of the men in that story universe, and then some asshole somewhere comes along and decides that she needs to be raped. Don’t go telling me that it makes for a better story or a better character because in 99.9% of the time that is absolutely NOT TRUE. That’s not entertainment, that’s torture. It’s not just torture for the character but also for those of us who read it, the women and girls who have been raped, the women and girls we know that have been raped, for our mothers, sisters, aunts, grandmothers and daughters have been assaulted.
WE DO NOT WANT TO READ THAT. We live in a world that largely hates women. We’re demonized, enslaved, beaten, drugged, circumcised, forced into prostitution, sold like cattle, treated like dogs, trapped in communes, forced to perform sadistic sex acts on camera, manipulated, poisoned, traded for televisions, despised, unwanted, hated. We’re all locked away into a cage of some making, whether we’re being forced to do what we do not want, or forced to endure onslaught after onslaught of messages from TV, magazines, comics, music, music videos, movies, toys, clothes, and ads that tell every one of this that we are not physically perfect, that we need to be more attractive, that we’re all whores deep inside and that a confident woman must be punished.
If you never thought about that, then you need to grow up. If you figure that it’s okay to make your otherwise awesome character a rape victim because you’re afraid that people will call her a Mary-Sue, THEN SHAME ON YOU. Stop writing. Give it all up right now. You have no faith and no appreciation for the female sex when you write these stories, whether you are a woman or not.
We have very few female heroes. We have very few characters that we can cheer on and look up to and know that they’ll be able to do what we can’t. We want more female heroes to relate to. Get it?
Stop taking that away from us.
SEXUAL MOLESTATION: I feel as strongly about this as I do about the rape.
Look, I’ve taken 5 years of psychology. I’m not stupid. I do know that there are sadly a lot of people out there who have suffered all of these things and they express that through writing, but please do everybody a favor: don’t use this as another character crutch. Please stop doing it. Stop using something so horrifying as a way to make your OCs less Mary-Sueish. It is disgusting and it is not fair to the victims who want to read a story and then run into this stupidity. If there is no reason for it—and I know that for nearly all of you there is no reason for it—then don’t do it.
CONCEIVED AS A RESULT OF RAPE: Again, this is absolutely disgusting and uncalled for. What is the point? How does this make your character better? If you have a legitimate reason for it, then fine, but I still think it’s a load of crap. Otherwise, really think about why you want to do it. And be honest, dammit.
More than once I’ve come across an original character that is a result between the rape of a villainous character and a heroic character. Why do they do that? That’s easy—writers think that’s the only way they can explain why the character is the child of these two unlikely people. That, and it’s also lazy writing.
If you have a legitimate reason (and as with all of these topics, I don’t understand how you could) and though it greatly turns my stomach to say so, then fine. Otherwise, rub a couple of brain cells together and think about it. Maybe:
· They had at one time had been lovers and had a child
· They rekindled and conception was either deliberate or an accident
· They were sexually attracted to each other only and conception was an accident
· They didn’t know who the other was when they met and then had either a brief affair or a long relationship that resulted in a child
· One or both were in disguise when they were together, and the child was planned or an accident
· They both got drunk and the conception was an accident.
Grow up, people.
BETRAYED: The Anti-Sue was probably betrayed at some point, most often by a lover but could be a friend, parent, child, relative or mentor. Something happens that sets the OC off on a path of vengeance, which they constantly remind themselves and others of.
On the flipside, they might have been the one who committed the betrayal. They might have defied their ruler or teacher, they might have known that a loved one was about to do something horrible, or they did it in order to save their country or loved ones. Either way, the OC’s probably on the run and is riddled with remorse.
TORTURED: The OC might have been captured or enslaved and then horrifically tortured. This usually results in hundreds of ugly scars.
The OC was tortured most likely because the villain was a psychopathic bastard rather than as punishment for a crime. In the end, for some writers it’s only a good excuse to have scars.
MURDERED: The OC has possibly murdered a person in an accident, revenge or self defense. It’s very unlikely that the OC did it just because he didn’t like the guy or for fun. Regardless, they’re going to be haunted by what has happened … and they’ll make sure that they remind you of it.
PROLONGED ILLNESS: This is only to add to the sympathy level of the character. Odds are it serves almost zero purpose otherwise.
INSANITY: A curse, abuse, experimentation or guilt drives the OC batty. They do crazy stuff and when they speak they don’t make sense. They’re always cured by the end.
AMNESIA: The OC has absolutely no idea who they are. They’re taken in by a family/tribe/army/whatever and taught a trade. Not only can they forge a mean horseshoe, they also either learn martial skills or they discover that they had this talent on their own. They moan about never being able to learn the truth about their identity, but begin to remember in bits in pieces. Typically, it’s revealed that the OC has done something horrific or that they’re from nobility, but everything’s straightened out and their memory’s returned by the end.
SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Another way to make the OC look more flawed. The Mary-Sue OC would never do drugs, but the Anti-Sue constantly needs her fix. She’s shockingly dependent on drugs and alcohol largely because it helps her to control her guilt and fears.
POVERTY: I haven’t found many characters who come from a well to-do family. 70% of OCs are born in total or near poverty. They have to scrape together for a living, sometimes even stealing for food. This toughens them to become a courageous hero later on. Why? Damned if I know—I haven’t found a good reason.
MANIPULATED: The OC was raised/taught/hired/trained to do something for a person they may owe their lives to, or are indebted to for taking them in and caring for them, or have been psychologically altered to serve this person’s machinations. The OC is told that there is a rival who needs to be killed or an item that needs to be stolen and that their boss needs them to do it. The OC totally believes this person and will automatically do whatever they’re told to do, even if they don’t understand why. They find out much later that their boss is actually the evil one who’s tricked them into doing their dirty work.
MAJOR DEFEAT: The OC is a great fighter or spell caster and is undefeated for years until they come up against a foe that just kicks their ass. This causes the OC to become frightened, humiliated, bitter and furious, and they’ll train for however long it takes to finally defeat this guy … which could be years. The bad guy is somebody really bad and might have hurt a lot of people, including someone the OC loves.
CHANGE OF HEART: The OC used to be evil, but they had a change a heart. They might have been defeated, fallen in love, come up a greater evil and must join the good guys to fight back, or finally took a look around and were horrified to see what they had been doing to people. They’re not trusted for a very long time but prove themselves to be noble. They’ll usually have one canon character who’s on their side through thick and thin, and even though it might look as though the OC has gone back to the dark side it’ll be that CC who saves them and brings them back.
Posting the Rest on Wed.
It's been pretty rough trying to write anything at all lately, never mind just blogs. I hit writer's block a little while ago so I decided the best thing to do would to fix up the last half and post it Wednesday. Just FYI.
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Did you know there's such thing as a Mary-Sue villain? Yup, a villain that's incredibly evil and impossible to stop and has zero depth or motivation. If you have an MS villain, time to fix it!!
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She sang, she danced, she acted, she fought for civil rights, she spied on the Nazis ... is there anything Josephine Baker *didn't* do?