years ago, I was designing a character and I kept adding traits: she had an
interest in gladiators, a bit of a mischievous streak, a love of old movies and
TV shows, etc., etc. It got to the point
where I started to wonder if a real person could have all these traits, or if I
was just stitching different people together like Dr. Frankenstein. It’s a problem that often comes up in TV
shows, especially scifi or fantasy ones.
Like in the pilot episode we’ll meet a character who seems like an
average person, but after five or six seasons we’ll find out they speak nine
languages, are an expert in five forms of martial arts, can hack a computer
with only a few keystrokes, and so on.
The vast majority of these talents only show up in one episode. Like, maybe the bad guy needs some Mayan
artifact to finish their doomsday weapon, and this character instantly knows
what it is and what museum it’s in because, “Oh, you mean I’ve never mentioned
my interest in Mayans? How odd.” The
good guys go to the museum, but the bad guy’s goons are already there so the
character grabs a sword because, “I’m an expert swordsperson too.”
people do have wide and varied interests and talents: I’m interested in World
War II, some people like the science fiction stories I write, I have some
gardening projects I’m slowly working on, etc., etc. Some characters feel like real people, while
others are just plot devices. There’s no
clear dividing line between them, so it’s very easy to cross from one to the
think the main reason this happens is that it is easier for the reader to
understand – and also easier to write – if we have basic characters. Basic characters like the competent hero who
can repair any mechanical problem with a paper clip and some duct tape, and the
bumbling buffoon we can laugh at because they never do anything right. Until right at the end when the buffoon somehow
flies a helicopter and saves the hero.
reality, people are probably closer to the buffoon than the hero, but people
read to escape reality. But this can
lead to people just expecting some hero to come save them from their
problems. So maybe next time you’re
stitching together your hero, throw in some buffoon to make them more realistic
and less the uber-hero.
Image from Pixabay.