Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Who Needs a Hero; Who Needs a Villain

Are heroes passe? At my writing group last night we got on the subject of characters, and one of our members remarked on how much they enjoyed the TV series "Lost," in part because all the characters were developed with both positive and negative attributes. None of the characters were completely villainous, and none were completely heroic. Another member of the group remarked that this was good writing, and someone else chimed in about how characters who had only black or white characteristics were "cardboard cutouts."

I thought about this for a while, and I decided that while all my colleagues made good points, and I generally agreed with them, I'm not quite ready to give up the absolute heroes and absolute villains. Sauron from Lord of the Rings is an absolute villain; John Carter of Mars is an absolute hero. And I like them both. I remember them both. I'm glad they exist. (In fiction that is.)

I do think that in real life few people are completely black and white, and I do like when fictional heroes have flaws, as long as they aren't fatal flaws. I can read about Conan the Cimmerian, for example, even when he's a womanizer. I couldn't handle Conan the pedophile. I don't mind when Conan steals from sorcerers or from the rich. I wouldn't like it if he robbed a mother-to-be or kidnapped a child for ransom.

But, I mostly want my fictional heroes to be heroic. I want their flaws to be minimal, and I want them striving constantly to defeat their flaws as well as whatever villain they are facing. In other words, I want them "better" than real life. And I want my villains to be worse. Fiction is not reality, and it fills a need in me that I don't get filled in my day to day life. I want that. I need that.

Writing, Characters, Heroes, Villains

1 comment:

C. S. Harris said...

I found myself wishing LOST had just one reasonable, calm, wise, reliable character, a "hero," I guess. Such people do exist, so in a sense it's less realistic not to have at least one amongst the survivors. But then, I suppose the writers get more plot mileage out of not having such a person around.