Author Topic: Flawless Heroes  (Read 1696 times)

EUOL

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Flawless Heroes
« on: May 28, 2004, 04:38:15 PM »
So, I've got a question for you all.  Specifically, this is addressed to those of you who have read my books, but the rest of you are certainly welcome to chime in.

Please tell me if I'm wrong, but it seems to me that people have generally liked my books better when the characters--specifically the hero--were generally 'flawless.'  I.e., the hero didn't have any major character issues, and was instead presented with primarily external conflict.

Examples.  ELANTRIS and WHITE SAND have what I would call 'flawless' heroes.  DRAGONSTEEL and AETHER OF NIGHT have mostly flawless heroes, with their internal issues being only minor parts of the plot.  These four have, from what people have told me, are generally their favorite books of mine.

WAY OF KINGS, MISTBORN (version 1), and FINAL EMPIRE all have heroes with serious emotional or psychological issues that they're dealing with.  KINGS is the most daunting of these, with each of the major characters having their own personal 'thing' that they are working through in the book.  MISTBORN (version 2) is similar to this (though none of you have read it yet.)

These three books have received mixed reactions.  While many people claim to like them, I'm not sure that they enjoyed them as much as the previous set.  

So, what do you think?  Complex characterization is a good thing, and I think I'm writing deeper characters now.  However, it's a bit disappointing when I write a character like Vin from MISTBORN2--starting the book with her very distrusting, a bit beaten down by an oppressive society and her life as a street rat, and having severe abandonment issues--and get (understandably) reactions from readers who say they just don't like her as much as 'superman' heroes from other books.

It doesn't matter that, eventually, Vin learns to deal with and overcome some of her problems--if the reader doesn't like her in the beginning of the book, it's very difficult to overcome that initial impression.  (And yes, I know--I can build empathy for her in other ways.  I do.  It isn't that people don't LIKE Vin, it's that they seem to like other characters MORE.)
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Peter Ahlstrom

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2004, 08:12:44 PM »
In Elantris you give us the flawed and very interesting Hrathen, and he's one of the 3 main characters. Didn't Ben say he was his favorite character? And he's one one who lists that as his favorite book.

I don't know. I sort of see what you're getting at. But many of my favorite books have flawed main characters. For example, those Robin Hobb books. The main character in the Farseer books has lots of issues. And then in the 2nd trilogy there's one particular character who starts out an immature TWERP and really grows and shines by the end of the 3 books, becoming one of my favorite characters much to my surprise.

I still liked Mistborn Mk. 1. But what may be a problem there is that while the main character was a guy we were supposed to hate, there wasn't a foil there for him that we were supposed to like. Not really. There were some other characters in there like the girl, but she wasn't prominent enough for us to be cheering her on.

I don't think every book needs main characters with severe internal problems. But they've all got to have SOME kind of problem, of course. In Elantris we've got one main character with major internal problems and two with external ones. Dragonsteel...I dunno, Jerrick's problem finally turned out to be pretty important. With White Sand, yeah, that was pretty much all external. But the whole honesty thing in Aether I thought was important.

With Way Of Kings...we've got a couple sympathetic characters from the start. The kid and the girl. Whose names have completely slipped my mind. Even though their problems become very important by the end of the book, they're people we can root for early on. For me the problems with the book aren't with the characters but with the pacing toward the middle and with the way the end didn't (for me) pull off the emotional turning points you intended.

I like books that get me emotionally involved. Bujold's Curse of Chalion is one of those. The emotional conflict at the end of the first half of the book is the most intense I can remember reading about, and I've not seen it done better anywhere else. That character...starts out with some problems. He's a burned-out soldier at the beginning. But those aren't really problems that gain sympathy from the reader. The external problems he has to face starting soon after the beginning draw the reader in. And what really does the emotional whammy in the middle are not the internal problems he starts out with at all. Instead it's when he turns his emotions outward, directs them completely and unselfishly on behalf of someone else.

So what am I saying here...if you have someone who's unlikable from the start, you need that person offset by someone who is likable. And if everyone has problems to work through, they shouldn't be so overwhelming at first that there's not enough for you to like. There should be SOMEONE in there from the beginning who you can at least partially relate to OR root for. If not, there's a danger of readers not caring about these strangers' personal problems and giving up before something else in the book (such as the overall world-threatening plot) hooks them.
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fuzzyoctopus

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2004, 08:38:54 PM »
I never got to read the second half of Way of Kings, so I'm not  a lot of help on that.

To be totally honest?  I just think that right now you're *better* at writing flawless heroes than at writing conflicted ones.  I've noticed I seem like flawless heroes and conflicted heroines.  But maybe that's just me.   I saw Sarene (is that her name?) from Elantris, as a good conflicted, because what her desires were conflicted with the world around her.

Flawless heroes are more universally appealing because all people have different flaws, and so some people will read a character and say "That's so true to life" and others will say "That's so unrealistic."

I've been thinking about this very issue a lot; in fact I could barely get to sleep last night because I"m finally trying to write my first book-length story and I'm trying to figure out how to write a conflicted heroine who is interesting and enthralling, and how to make her conflict tie in importantly to the metaplot.

I will be interested to see how this thread goes.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2004, 08:41:20 PM by fuzzyoctopus »
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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2004, 08:46:59 PM »
Well, I don't know what i can offer in terms of comparison, but i thought that the character balance in WoK (cool acronym) was pretty good. A group of sympthathetic characters, some baddies - though the mad king really got on my nerves, didn't like him much as a character - and the main characters, who were on screen the most, had interesting sides to them. Dalenar made a rather abrupt jump from nice to not acting nice, I argued with SE on that already. The Girl (who picks at her clothes, you know) was a really good character - i really rooted for her, though by the end of the book, some of her actions made me go off her a bit. Probably due to too much Goodkind and his habit of having female characters raped. Come to think of it, i think that i actually liked the characters in the book a lot more at the beginning for all of them, and middle for the girl (once her viewpoint chapters came in, since you were revising other ppls views of her) than i did at the end. Maybe at the end they were, i don't know, too... stained for my liking. I still liked them, but not nearly as much.

I'll try to get more information to you in an email about what i thought of the book. :)
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Fellfrosch

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2004, 09:26:15 PM »
That's very helpful, Entropy.  Actually, this entire thread has been helpful--I admire the ammount of thought going into it.  Hopefully, some others will post.
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42

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2004, 11:18:02 PM »
See, I would say that White Sand is about a flawless charcter. Sure, Kenton doesn't have a lot of flaws, but Ais sure does. They're not obvious at first, but they show up later.

My theory is that character flaws work well when there are a lot of details that explain why they act the way they do. When a character is just blurting out, "ooh, look at me, I'm so torn and conflicted, or something..." it just doesn't work. If I can see the character flaw building up to a boiling point, it's a lot more interesting.

Flawless characters that have external conflict I can relate too, are cool. I think I get annoyed by flawless characters that have bizarre external conflicts that I just can really understand. "Oh no, there aren't rose petals in my boudoir, I'm so torn." Or flawless characters that never seem challenged.
« Last Edit: May 28, 2004, 11:19:39 PM by 42 »
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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2004, 12:17:25 AM »
Short form: I don't want flawless heroes. I just want heroes who are good.

Extrapolation: I just don't get into the whole disfunctional thing. I don't feel like I'm disfunctional, even though I have some pretty huge character flaws. I don't want a hero I can't identify with because he's got such a huge problem. I also think, if he's a hero, He'll over come whatever flaws he has. Sure, they can have major problems/insecurities/whatever, but they shouldn't be added just to be added, and if they're there, they have to be overcome. That's what a hero IS for me. Someone who overcomes his problems to help others.

Now, I've only read two of yours, (well, two and a half, I didn't care for White sands enough to bully a copy out of you, so I didn't finish), so I can't say so much. But both of them were really good. Dragonsteel had a 'flawed' hero, in the sense that he had a big problem that he couldn't face until the end of the book. Of course, the way it ended, it wasn't the end. It needed another book. Very little resolved.

With Way of Kings, well, no, I don't think I liked the end. It's ok to end sad, I guess, but everyone makes big decisions, some of them make self-sacrificing decisions, and well, it doesn't seem like the world in general is better off for it. It's like everyone who sacrificed did so for nothing. It was pretty pessimistic. The young hero (the guy with the jade) is flawless, but that's what makes me angry about him: I want him to selfishly hold on to the blade to fight on. it's his flawlessness that bothered me. I really like how Dalenor turned otu though. Able to rise above his selfish feelings at some points, but still glad when his feelings are gratified.

Don't get the wrong picture, incidentally, I liked it a lot. However, the ending, well... couldn't it have been a little, I dunno, less like the victory meant something other than "well, the world wasn't TOTALLY destroyed"

ANyway, I don't have any conclusions right now. Just thoughts. I liked both of those books, and neither one had a "perfect hero."

fuzzyoctopus

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2004, 06:35:19 PM »
So I dug out a soundtrack to listen to this morning and I have two words to say about conflicted characters:

Les Miserables.

I will elaborate later if anyone has not seen or read it. (you really should do one or the other).

Fantine - "I had a dream my life would be so different from this hell I'm living."

Valjean - "If I speak, I am condemmed. If I stay silent, I am damned."

Eponine - Sacrifices her life for a man she loves but knows will never truly love her.
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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2004, 11:32:35 PM »
I don't really like flawless heroes.  I like someone with at least a decent amount of internal conflict.  This is because I think it shows the character is thinking, and these thoughts lead to a greater understanding of the heroe.  Because of internal conflict, character thoughts and motives are better shown as compared to a flawless character.

I mean, if you look at many literary classics it is really obvios that a torn character derives a better story.  If Mark Twains The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn hadn't had moral issues that Huck was trying to overcome, it would have been plain boring.  How would Of Mice and Men have come out if Lenny wasn't flawed?

I'm not saying there aren't any good unflawed characters, just that I generally like flawed characters more.  They are easier for me to relate to, to understand, and they give another dimension to the story, a layer which would have otherwise been unseen.  Having flawed characers is like having 3D glasses, not necissary, but superior to the alternative.
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stacer

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2004, 12:01:44 AM »
I think that characters need to be flawed, but not *too* flawed. For example, we often love the "good thief" characters--take Ocean's Eleven, for example. But you take that idea too far, and you get movies like Blow, that disaster of Johnny Depp's that has a drug dealer for a main character, and it's basically just all about how he ruins his life and the lives of pretty much anyone who knows him. (I haven't seen it, so correct me if you've seen it and I'm wrong. This is the feeling I got from people who have described it to me.) So basically you get a depressing story that most sane people (unlike my former coworker) wouldn't want to delve into.

So characters can be conflicted and even messed up to the point of doing the wrong things for the right reasons, but most people want to see hope for that character to improve, even if it's just a little bit. Or at least some sort of paradigm-shifting in which the *audience* sees the character in a new light, even if the character never really changed.

Also, I agree with what's already been said--the reader has to identify with the character, even if the character is in the wrong about his or her worldview. The reader has to have something to root for.

I'd be very interested in reading this latest, EUOL, if you ever got a chance to let me read it. (And I promise I'd actually read it instead of letting it sit around for 3 years like White Sand...  ::)) I'd like to see how you're developing Vin and if I'd agree with those who think she's too depressed/ing.
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EUOL

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #10 on: June 01, 2004, 12:32:47 AM »
Stacer:

I would love to have you read the book--especially since the main character is a teenage girl, and you have not only *been* a teenage girl, but you also like to read things written for teenage girls.  (Not that this is a YA novel specifically, but any book with teenage characters has distinct YA appeal, I think.)

Anyway, I'm still thinking that I need to back off just a bit on her moodiness in the first few chapters.  We'll see.  I have to get this ELANTRIS rewrite finished (and get paid...) before I can look back at MISTBORN.


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stacer

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #11 on: June 09, 2004, 08:41:42 PM »
So I'm reading this Dragonlance novel that SE sent me for reviewing, and blech! I'm on page 75 and I just CAN'T STAND the protagonist. As the title implies (Weasel's Luck), the kid is a snotty little weasel! There is NOTHING redeeming about this kid. He's a thief, a liar, a cheat; he takes advantage of everyone, jumps right into a relationship with a shady character to save his own life and is perfectly willing to give up the lives of all his family to save his own. He sets his tutor on fire regularly.

And at page 75, I see no reason to continue reading. I see no hope for improvement in this kid. It's just all about him. So here's a perfect example of what NOT to write your protagonists as. They have to have some sort of redeeming quality, even if it's just a glimmer. By page 75, I should be feeling as if this kid is going to learn to be a better man, but I'm not.

Related question: if I hate the book this much, do I have to continue reading it and review it?  :P
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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #12 on: June 09, 2004, 08:49:14 PM »
I read that one as a kid. I think he *does* have a little redemption in the end.
but uhm.. yeah, i'd prefer you did, unless you feel like you can justly give a review on what you read so far.

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #13 on: June 09, 2004, 09:35:35 PM »
Read it as a kid? I thought it was just published this year.

Edit: nevermind. I looked at the fine print, and it was originally published in 1988.
« Last Edit: June 09, 2004, 09:36:18 PM by norroway »
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EUOL

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Re: Flawless Heroes
« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2004, 12:33:17 AM »
Weasel's Luck--that was one of my favorite Dragonlance books when I was a kid.  I loved the character--probably because I empathized with an annoying little teenager, being one myself.
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