Friday, August 25, 2006


or The Care and Feeding of Fictional Heroes

by W. L. Elliott

When I find myself screaming “real people would never do that!” I’m often reminded by my dear husband or friends that the people in the book aren’t real people –that’s why it’s called fiction. So before anyone else thinks the same snarky remark, I will simply say--when I am really into a book, those characters become real people. When the people in the story are well written, they are as "real" as any other person I might meet on the street downtown. When you take that away from me, it's almost traumatic.

With that in mind, what follows is a list of my personal pet peeves:

Not all heroes are tall, dark and handsome. Nor are all females stunningly georgeous, petite yet leggy, blondes. Sometimes people are just average looking. And you know what? That’s okay!

Not every hero who is out to save the world needs to travel great distances to do it! “Never confuse movement with action.” (Ernest Hemingway)

When having characters travel, please remember there are physiological limitations. Don’t have your caravan march out across the desert and never mention water. If they don’t get a chance to bathe, please keep in mind that they are going to smell in short order. Sometimes even fictional characters get tired and cranky. I’m sure the Donner party started out as a bunch of really nice people, but look what happened when they were deprived.

The terminator was a robot – not a human being! NO real person could be shot twenty three times and keep on going to save the day. Unless your hero is a superhero, or a robot, or the Energizer Bunny – he can’t just keep going, and going, and going.

Even horrible criminals have something likeable about them. That’s what makes their heinous side so shocking.

The most noble good guy in the world has at least one absolutely irritating habit that makes you want to slap him upside the head now and then.

And I can, from experience, guarantee that PMS will strike even the sweetest woman in the world.

And lastly...

DON’T MAKE YOUR CHARACTER AN IDIOT!! How many times have you been reading a book and practically thrown it across the room because the hero did something so stupid you hoped the book would hit him on the way to the wall? I have! (Put a dent in the wall, too.)

There is no excuse for using your hero’s stupidity to steer the plot, create further suspense, or anything else. I don’t mean every hero should be McGyver, building atom bombs out of toothpaste and an innertube. But give them the common sense to solve the problems that arise in a reasonably intelligent manner.

Real people don’t make bad decisions for the sake of word count.

My biggest pet peeve of all time is people who do something uncharacteristically dumb, usually getting themselves caught by the bad guy and complicating things. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say, “they were so stupid, they deserved what they got!”.

A specific example is the famous Harry Potter. When given a chance to turn back time, with the opportunity to right thirty years of wrongs, he chose instead to let things remain as they were. It aggravated me so badly that I lost a large amount of respect for, and interest in, the Harry Potter series.

I realize that I am not the voice of expertise on the writing end, but I do speak from many years experience as a reader. And so I say, from one reader/writer to another, please don’t make me throw your book across the room. I don’t need any more dented drywall.

No comments: