A Thin Line Between Loyalty and Boring. The Value of Conflict Between Supporting Characters

A Thin Line Between Loyalty and Boring. The Value of Conflict Between Supporting Characters
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Image from comicbook.com

I’m making my way through my TBR pile, and I noticed something in a book that drew my attention. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s probably not a good thing. I’ll keep things vague because there’s enough bad pub out there regarding books, and I’m not in any way trying to bash anyone. However, we can look at what some people do and make notes.

We have a  main character who has a sidekick. This sidekick is loyal and steadfast. My argument is this character might have reached the point to where that steadfastness is not only hard to believe, but has become boring because no matter what the main character puts that sidekick through, the character simply keeps being this amazingly helpful, understanding person.

While I’ve recently come to believe that conflict in stories is a must, and I think authors should find as many opportunities for conflict as possible, I’m not in any way saying there needs to be some sort of fight scene or argument in every scene. Sometimes you need tension. Sometimes you need support. The thing is though, no one can be stalwart and reliable 100 percent of the time.

From a human perspective, even lifelong friends get frustrated with one another. My brother-and-I are such close friends and so well regarded, that family members have on occasion asked one of us what we wanted and then bought it for the other.  When I go shopping, I just buy something I really want and give it to him. That doesn’t mean we’ve never fought. From that same perspective, friendships are tested through adversity. The point in live isn’t to always agree and support each other.  Support is a thing, but support doesn’t always imply, helping or (more importantly) rolling with whatever the MC wants.

From a writer’s perspective, any author should be seriously worried when character reactions or actions become predictable. Predictable characters are boring, and boring characters lead to unread books.

Disagree?  Let’s take a look at some of the most famous “friends” in fiction or entertainment:

Let’s get the obvious out of the way.  Didn’t we all see Civil War? I mean, the movie made metaphorical-astro-bucks in theaters. Wasn’t that story (in movies and comics) all about putting allies at odds? That sort of conflict takes this analogy a little farther than I want though.  What about the most loyal sidekick ever?

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Image from writingishardwork.com

Samwise Gamgee: The guy tagged along with Frodo through everything. Some may Sam is the actual protagonist of the story.  while I think he was the hero, he wasn’t the protagonist. The protagonist in any story is the one who has a clear goal and encounters obstacles. The main goal of Lord of the Rings? Destroy the ring. Yes, Sam just wanted to protect his friend, but it’s not as neat as those wearing fond remembrance glasses think. For starters, Sam didn’t hear about the tale and shout, “Frodo can’t go unless I do!”  In fact, he was caught eavesdropping and ordered to follow Frodo.  The very beginning of their journey wasn’t based on friendship and support; it was based on Sam being yanked into this mess because of being nosey.

Yes, Sam was stalwart through perhaps 95% of the whole story, but there was rising conflict and an eventual clash of wills and break-up. Sure it was short lived, but Sam and Frodo argued about Gollum, which ended in Sam saying he can’t support this path. Yes, he returned, but that return as all the more heroic because the audience understood and believed how frustrating it would be.

So writers, I’m not saying the friends or sidekicks of the story need to argue at every page or end up on opposite sides of the conflict, but no one real or fictitious, can walk in the shadow of an MC and not encore some of the emotional strain, turmoil, and resentment the MC encounters.

Writers should be aware of what the MC is putting that sidekick through, and respect that those challenges have a toll on that friend. Every Robin ever has had some major conflict with Batman. Sometimes it was a conflict to earn a place beside him, and sometimes it was a more literal conflict. No one liked Jason Todd until he came back and tried took on Batman.

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Image by Dragoninstall taken from agrimarques.com.

There’s another side. There are characters who get boring for the opposite reason. They almost never seem willing to support or help out that MC.  Mat Cauthon was a very hot and cold character for me.  I frankly resented him sometimes for how quickly he was ready to abandon Rand and how stubborn he was about pretty much doing anything. I understand part of this was an aspect of his arc and his fatal flaw, but he infuriated me, and there were times when I just wasn’t interested in him because I didn’t want to read another ten pages about how he wanted to avoid the situation. That said, I absolutely bawled when he mentioned a certain prank from way back in Eye of the World (I’d really appreciate anyone who remembers what that animal was by the way. I can’t seem to recall it. Might be time to read that series again.)  Mat ended up working for me because he inevitably was loyal. He fought it every step of the way, but he did come through in the end.

Consider this as you write. Tension and conflict, even between the closest characters, can make that relationship stronger.

Thanks for reading,
Matt

 

Why Black Panther Should Be the Next Leader of the Avengers

Why Black Panther Should Be the Next Leader of the Avengers

Greetings all,

I just wanted to share a tangent with you. I hope you’ll forgive me.  I watched Black Panther on opening night. This isn’t a review.  If you want to know what I thought, well, I liked it. I thought it was a pretty solid Marvel movie. I was entertained.  The epiphany, however, is in watching the character develop.

He’s a natural leader. He’s charismatic. He’s compassionate. He’s disciplined. He’s merciful.

How in the world do you not make this guy the next leader of the Avengers?

What I don’t want to turn this into is a debate about race or culture. Look, it’s great that this character brings ethic and cultural diversity. Those are good things.  But it’s what we do in our life that makes us. Our skin and our culture are factors, but they don’t define us. So you won’t hear me talking about how it’s time we had a black this or a woman that. Frankly, I don’t care who you are, what you look like or where you’re from.  All I care about is the simple yes or no answer to the question, “Can you do the job?”

T’Challa checks every box that matters.

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Image taken from Collider. Honestly no real leg to stand on here. I’m just praying the Mouse doesn’t take offense.

Natural leader: During one scene, he’s faced with his advisors. One, a close friend, wants one course of action. What he does is listen to all of his advisors. Bozeman does a fantastic job of making me believe he’s listening and considering the options. He evaluates all the information and makes a decision. This is what leaders must do. Trust their team, but make the call. (CHECK)

Charismatic: Dude, seriously, if Boseman were to run for president on this movie alone, I’d vote for him. He’s so compelling. He’s emotional without being weak. He’s entertaining without being foolish. His ability to make others feel for him is unquestioned. I can’t quantitate this data. You’ll either watch the movie and agree with me, or you won’t.  For me, this is a CHECK.

Compassionate: When faced with the key plot, he doesn’t respond to a threat. This is actually critical information. Most leaders will only asses hazards and identify means to mitigate those hazards.  Those leaders are effective, but they’re rarely great. You see, T’Challa understand that choices like that were what caused his current conflict. He sought understanding. He wanted to find alternative solutions. He wanted to unite rather than just defend. Listen, if he only had this arc, I’d still think he should take over the Avengers. Uncompromising men are exemplary. But understanding leaders change the future.

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Image taken from IndieWire.

Disciplined: He enforces standards without regard to his personal feelings. He upholds the intent of the law without being subject to the letter of it. He proves his subject to his laws when he puts himself in a position of danger. He holds others accountable even when he regrets the need to do so. He does so while being as merciful as he can be at every opportunity. His mercy isn’t a hindrance, it’s an aspect of his leadership.

It’s my opinion that we focus too much on skin color or gender. Now, I’ll confess it’s very easy for a white, middle-aged, man to say that. However, I believe we’ll never push pass these boundaries we’re fighting if the only way we identify one another is with these crude adjectives. I’m not calling for T’Challa to take over because he’s black. I’m saying he should be in charge because he’s the best qualified. We should let go of the other reasons. They ultimately don’t matter.

The business and time spent means Captain America’s time is limited. I’m not saying he should be ousted. But he’s a prime example on how uncompromising men can cause more problems than they fix. That’s not why he’ll eventually be killed off. He’ll eventually be killed off because Chris Evans can’t play Captain America forever. We all know Robert Downey is close to the end of his amazing run as Iron Man. The fact is someone will have to step up to lead in Phase 4 and beyond, and Black Panther made it very clear to me who that leader should be.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Growth of a Character: The Plot isn’t the Only Thing That Moves

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I’ve been starting the habit of reading more books on writing. It’s something I’ve always believed in, but didn’t really practice as much as I should. I read plenty, and I listen to video blogs and podcasts when I’m not furiously doing the other things that life has me doing.  The thing is, we have to take the time to hone our craft, and it’s not enough to simply write. Writing without learning about the craft or trying new things won’t lead to growth.

 

I’d mentioned a few times how Caught was a bit delayed because my editor didn’t think Sal’s arc was clear enough. As is always the case when I hear feedback, even if I disagree with it, I started doing some research, and the book I’m currently listening to, Creating Character Arcs  by K.M. Weiland, has at least got me thinking. See, my struggle is some characters don’t change. I like some of those characters. So I had to figure out a way of thinking that allowed me to distinguish between one arc and another.

Here’s one choice that’s important: The events your characters experience should change them, or the situation or people should change as a result of your characters.

That, to me, is the distinction that matters. I’ll post a “review” of the above book once I finish it, but I’m far enough along in that book to know I’ve pinpointed that choice as one every writer should make.

Case study:
15326549_1179426122094499_6318367043184922848_nTyrion from Betrayer’s Bane: This was the December Book Cover of the Month. I finished this book last week, and I’ll post a review on it in a few weeks, but Tyrion is a good figure to study. You have a character who’s come to believe a simple truth: Nothing is more important that the elimination of the enemy.

Without giving you too many spoilers, I will tell you what matters is he has a fundamental belief.  Each plot point serves to in one way or another test that belief. As the story progresses, he’s even tempted by other things. Then his moment of decision comes when he has to choose to let go of that belief completely or hold to it. That moment of choice must feel realistic. The temptation to change coarse must feel tempting to the reader, and the moment of decision must come at the character’s most delicate frame of mind. Michael G. Manning does an amazing job of following those threads to a satisfying conclusion.

Iron Man:
This story I feel less likely to have spoilers, so I feel a bit more ready to point out some of the specifics.  Tony Stark has a fundamental belief in the beginning of the movie. Nothing matters as long as you have wit and money. There may be other (and even better) ways to say it, but this is him in a nutshell. Sure, when he’s captured he learns the pain of irresponsibility, but he still counters this with his mind and financial power, but he’s fighting the symptoms of the problem. He’s still pretty caviler about things until the his newest weapon nearly falls into the wrong hands. Here he has the chance to let let the responsibility go, or accept it and do something. That moment of choice is when we see Stark’s growth.

But what about those other arcs I like so much? I’ve been open that I like a character who  doesn’t change. When a character doesn’t change, the world around him has to. This is the nature of a story. Something must change.

Captain America: From beginning to end, our hero is who he is. Yes, he gains power. Yes, his looks change. But those are superficial. He starts the movie a young man believing that truth and justice are worth fighting for, and ends his battle paying (or seeming to pay) the ultimate sacrifice for his belief. He doesn’t change. But every other character around him does. His belief becomes  a beacon of light for others to look upon. Characters look to him and decide to follow his example, or reject him and become his opposition.

overcoming-2127669_960_720A great plot is an equally great place to start, but events (especially those as traumatic as the ones we see in literature) test people. If those people hold tight to their beliefs (regardless of their truth or falsehoods), the characters around him should be inspired by those actions (or they should try to kill him).  If the people don’t change, the characters should. People crave companionship. If the world around us doesn’t change we’ll eventually change ourselves to fit in. Peer Pressure and Social Norming are examples of this truth.

How do you do that?  Well, part of it is to consider how your character will react to the events you’re about to put him through? Who is your character at the beginning of the story?  Who will he be at the end? Who were the other characters when they meet your main character? Who will they be at the end?

Plot shows a progression of events, but that’s just part of it. Characters should grow or help those around them grow.  I thought I’d spend a bit of time offering my thoughts and seeing what everyone else thinks.

Thanks for reading,

Matt