September 8, 2015 at 10:24 pm #5518
Kay, so this week I had Bryan Davis in studio for the podcast (episode below for those who’ve missed it) and we mentioned something that Bryan is (at least so I’m told) notorious for, and that is characters who are morally perfect. Flawless in their character. In this brings up two different trains of thinking.
One, doing this can provide a role model for readers, which can be handy, but two, flawless characters are unrealistic and hard to relate to.
So I think it’s worth a discussion. Are these role-model, perfect characters something worth having in story, or is it better to write characters that are morally realistic to the failings of human beings?September 9, 2015 at 8:35 am #5525
It depends, I think. Perfect characters are not very relatable, but you do like them and want to be like them. When however you see that perfect character repeated continually, you start to go, “Not again”. You never do that for a flawed hero (unless they really weren’t portrayed well). Flawed characters provide opportunity for growth and when you have a flawed character, you don’t have to make all your climaxes based around personal peril (Swords, knifes, kidnapping). You can base them around psychological battles, struggles of faith, doubts, misunderstandings, etc. Over all, the flawed character is more versatile. Perfect characters remind us of what we are striving for, but flawed characters remind us of how our struggle is going to be. We can sympathizes with flawed characters. We can see what made them conquerers and how we can be the same. The how is so important. Its not just about the what. Both are useful, but flawed should be the focus. So there you have it. It depends.
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- Rank: Charismatic Rebel
- Total Posts: 40
Morally perfect characters don’t leave room for any character arcs, and when character driven stories are my favorite kind, that presents an issue.
I think flawed characters who still strive to better themselves are ideal.
I’ve read books from the perspective of very cynical characters, and they were interesting and sometimes relatable; but then, there was no redeeming point. There was no acknowledgement of the flaws at hand, either by the author, narrator, or main character. There was no attempt towards character development. Just a book long rant of a teenage superiority. Yeah, that’s not my favorite thing. Though I’m very open minded and I’m sure there are some good books with that issue, but usually when there are, it’s because we learn from them, in which case the author would indeed be acknowledging the flaws, however subtly, so….
Some, many, classic older books tend to have the morally perfect character with one flaw thrown in that needs to be ironed out. Once that flaw is indeed remedied, they all live happily ever after, the preachy moral of the story has been dished out, and it’s all good. Alright, that’s fine. They are not trying to write like today’s books. The character aren’t realistic or relatable, because they aren’t three dimension- they are just tools to get the lesson across. They are just there to embody something, but they aren’t much in themselves. Some of these type books are very good, and they do have their place, perhaps a bedtime story or a family devotional. But I personally don’t like this at all, and I know if I saw it in modern fiction, it wouldn’t be labeled as a great thing, it’d be amateur. It’s just a sign of the times, and that’s okay. But yeah. I wouldn’t encourage emulating this. At all.September 9, 2015 at 10:05 am #5528
When however you see that perfect character repeated continually, you start to go, “Not again”.
Gulp… Listen to Daeus on this one, guys. He’s uniquely qualified to be offering an opinion.
Okay, first things first. On the podcast Mr. Davis used Aragorn as an example. Good choice of example. I think a lot of what made Aragorn such a great character even though he had no major character flaws was his introductory scene. He was sharp and blunt and not exactly very considerate to poor Butterbur—called him a fat innkeeper who only remembered his own name because people shouted it at him all day. And for the first part of his part of the story you are practically convinced he is a scoundrel and trying to take advantage of the hobbits. So you remember that scene even as you get to know Aragorn better, and it sticks with you that he certainly can be sharp, almost rude, if the occasion demands it.
Besides, he isn’t invincible. For a good part of the second book of the Fellowship of the Ring (each book in the trilogy is two books, remember) he was uncertain what direction to take, and how to lead the fellowship when Gandalf fell.
And as a quick note on this facet of the subject, the Aragorn in the movie was much more flawed and human than the Aragorn in the book, and the Aragorn in the movie is nothing compared to the Aragorn in the book. He is only a shadow of a shade of an echo of a memory.
So I don’t think it’s necessarily always better to have flawed characters— but a significant majority of the time it is. Like, it’s almost never a good idea to make someone perfect unless you want them to be practically untouchable. Which is also almost never a good idea. 😛
‘Some, many, classic older books tend to have the morally perfect character with one flaw thrown in that needs to be ironed out. Once that flaw is indeed remedied, they all live happily ever after, the preachy moral of the story has been dished out, and it’s all good. Alright, that’s fine. They are not trying to write like today’s books. The character aren’t realistic or relatable, because they aren’t three dimension- they are just tools to get the lesson across. They are just there to embody something, but they aren’t much in themselves. Some of these type books are very good, and they do have their place, perhaps a bedtime story or a family devotional. But I personally don’t like this at all, and I know if I saw it in modern fiction, it wouldn’t be labeled as a great thing, it’d be amateur. It’s just a sign of the times, and that’s okay. But yeah. I wouldn’t encourage emulating this. At all. ‘
Excellent points, Emma. Excellent.September 9, 2015 at 12:14 pm #5535
- Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
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I honestly can’t think of any perfectly perfect characters. But there are the morally perfect ones. Sometimes they just aren’t the main character, though and you’re seeing the story through the eyes of another character.The morally perfect characters usually have some other fault or not everyone likes them.
Like Horatio Horblower is awesome, but he’s very self critical and doesn’t think he’s awesome, so that’s one tool.
Or in the Peleg Chronicles. Lord McDougal is an amazing morally perfect character. But he’s tall and awkward and everyone thinks he’s got this curse on him. But also, you’re seeing the story through the eyes of his shield bearer, Fergus.September 9, 2015 at 1:31 pm #5538
Henty. For all his mastery with escapes, you’d think he’d be able to write real people, but no. Some parts about them were real and some specific characters were done well, but overall, they were platonic ideals with a John Bull twist, just given different names.
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AMEN!September 10, 2015 at 1:25 pm #5557
- Rank: Knight in Shining Armor
- Total Posts: 467
But Henty did a good job with his side characters. Peterkin and that sailor from Martin Rattler (Can’t remember the name) were great. Martin Rattler is actually a lot like Tintin. Tintin is a really extreme role-model perfect character. But if a little kid goes “Oh, I want to be like Tintin!” It’s more a question of where to start. I mean, he’s proficient with about anything anyone happens to throw at him, weapon or otherwise and has a completely never compromising moral code. Which is great, but Herge could have really benefitted from giving him a few weak points.September 10, 2015 at 1:38 pm #5558
Actually, Martin Rattler and Peterkin are Ballentyne. I get them mixed up too! But Ballentyne is great with characterization. His plots are not as fast or intricate or exciting than Henty, but his characters— there’s no comparison.September 10, 2015 at 2:21 pm #5559
I’ve already said this, but hurrah for Peterkin. Henty does have some good points of course. First and foremost are his escapes like I mentioned. He also does a better job than any writer I know of at making historical fiction historical. He is always sure to write a gripping fight or battle scene. Henty was called the prince of story tellers. I think this is accurate. He really could spin a good yarn so to speak, but as a story teller he was focused on the plot and on personal peril, escape, and adventure. Henty was more giving his readers characters to be a role model than a friend.
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Yeh . . . but all Henty books follow a very specific plot pattern with very similar characters who generally don’t have archs, and the key to any battle fought in any one of his books is DON’T BREAK FORMATION, and there are no ifs, ands, or buts about it.September 10, 2015 at 2:25 pm #5561
Not to say I don’t like his stuff; I’ve really enjoyed a number of his writing. It’s just that the more I read, the more patterns I see, and the less enjoyable it is over time.September 10, 2015 at 4:47 pm #5567
- Rank: Eccentric Mentor
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Not to say I don’t like his stuff; I’ve really enjoyed a number of his writing. It’s just that the more I read, the more patterns I see, and the less enjoyable it is over time.
I completely agree. I picked up a Henty book recently after not reading one for a long time and keep mentally correcting all the things you shouldn’t do…especially the unrealistic way of talking (oh, can you tell me the story of how this war started? Sure. Let’s have half a chapter of history.) And the main characters are all cool, level-headed, young Englishmen. 🙂 There are some I enjoy still though, like For the Temple.
INTJ - Inhumane. No-feelings. Terrible. Judgment and doom on everyone.September 10, 2015 at 4:50 pm #5568
Yeah, I liked For the Temple too. Beric the Britain was pretty good as well, those are the two I really remember.September 10, 2015 at 5:00 pm #5569
A tale of the western planes (This actually has one very well done character – The Doctor), the young carthaginian, by right of conquest, the dragon and the raven – some of my favorites.
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