I had some grand plans. Let me lay it out for you how this all went down. I had this great idea for a story. I had this kick-ass, great looking, good natured, sarcasticly funny, amazing in almost every way main character all planned out. He was the quintessential good guy that I love so much in stories. He always knows what to do, always saves the day, always makes the right decision even if it is not the best decision for him – always puts the good of the team first and well, you know the type. He was a lawful good guy with stunning good looks and a great sense of humor.
Now mind you, I did say I love these guys in stories because let’s face it – lawful good is only an alignment in stories. No human is lawful good. People make mistakes. People do what is good for them sometimes without regard for the greater good. People are selfish. People have a desire for self preservation. People are… well, people. Humanity is inherently flawed.
Anyway – having said that – let’s get back to my dilemma. I had this incredible idea for a character and a story to match. So I did what any writer would do. I wrote. Duh. What did you think writers do? After writing, I went back to edit. I made a few corrections here and there with the story line and a few of the supporting characters.
Then today, as I was going over my latest addition to the story to finish it up – this part of it anyway – I discovered what was amiss. I had this feeling all along that there was a problem. I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was so I went on with my work. I went on and I went on and I added and edited and edited some more. The story is sound for the most part. It is interesting and consistent. Well it was, until I discovered at last the big problem I had until now been missing.
Going over the second to last part of the story it occurred to me that I was missing three people. I had killed these people off in the beginning. They were total red shirts. Problem was, when my main character got back to headquarters, no one mentioned these three missing characters. Apparently, these three characters were unimportant to everyone. The only important things about these characters were their deaths. But even this is not the most important thing that I realized.
In discovering I had killed three people and no one cared at all, I also discovered my main character sucks. See, he is the leader of a team. His team travels to other places to get certain things, they encounter danger, etc. In their first mission, three of the five members of the team are slaughtered. Having the majority of your team get killed first time out reflects poorly on your leadership skills. Clearly, as a leader who always saves the day – my character failed.
Then when he gets back to headquarters – not only does his leader not ask,
“Hey, by the way, where is the rest of the team you were responsible for?”
But my character does not offer any information in the way of explanation as to why now he is missing three of the original team members. So, as a gifted communicator – my character failed.
Before he returned to base, my character gets his ass kicked a couple of times. As a kick-ass fighter – my character failed. In addition to this, my character has magic abilities, very powerful magic and yet he does not know how to use them – fail! And lastly, throughout the story my character continuously puts himself in harms way and often due to an emotional overreaction. Sure he is usually defending someone else in some way but the fact is that putting yourself in danger is dangerous for those around you. It is always best to keep your cool in any situation, so this means, you guessed it – when it comes to always doing the right thing or always knowing what to do – my character failed.
So let’s sum this up, my character is a very flawed person. He is not the incredible hero I had planned him out to be. This guy is a total failure it seems at everything he was supposed to be – and yet, I like him more now than I did when I started. He has a good heart and he is fun to follow. Great characters are like that in my opinion.
As much as I love lawful good guys in stories, they’re a little boring at times. I’ll take the screw up who learns something along the way over the perfect hero every time. Although – if three of your five team members are killed on a mission – you should probably offer an explanation to superiors.
The world truly would be a boring place if everyone were perfect. Cool piece!
Boring indeed Kevin. Great Characters have flaws, they have secrets, they make mistakes and they make the story.
No one likes the Mary Sue types. The best characters, even heroes, have flaws. Go with it, and you’ll find your character will really reveal himself and surprise you even more.
I am excited about this character and where I find we are taking each other. I have ceased to be his writer and I have become his follower documenting his journey.
Neil Gaiman said the same kind of thing – as an author, we should allow the story, and its characters, to reveal itself, rather than force the story to unfold.
I am loving it! My character is revealing so much to me – schooling me in how to really and truly write a great character