The wife and I had ridden our bikes to dinner, then to yogurt over at the village center of Baldwin Park. Understand that Baldwin is a neo-community, one built on a perfectly good naval training center. It’s smart and clever and cute and as plastic as, well, plastic. It’s fake from end to end. But they have the only yogurt shop within wife-cycling range, so there you go.
While there, I saw a couple of Goths hanging out on the benches amid the manufactured quaintness, desperately seeking an identity. Like Illinois Nazis, it’s hard to take Baldwin Park Goths seriously. But it did make me wonder (as most things do) – was there a book in it?
What sort of heroine would you have to write if she was a Goth in an influential area of town? The cred just isn’t there. So what would a story be like with Moonbat the Goth? Could the story be made interesting so there was some sympathy and reader-backing for a character who’s very existential protest is a sell-out?
Most heroes are flawed in perfection. Harry Potter has no weaknesses that I’m aware of. Most TV heroes are gently anti-hero, protesting their goodness while they perform acts of goodness. Even Mikael Blomkvist of the Dragon Tattoo series is a rumbled journalist who is hampered by his commonness (yet is seemingly a total chick magnet).
It’s the heroes that are flawed, humanistically flawed (but not overly flawed) who are the gems. Some characters I could name:
Harry Flashman – Cowardly, dastardly, yet flatly honest with the reader.
Bruno Stachel – A German fighter pilot in The Blue Max, egotistical, a drunkard, yet can occasionally shine by doing the right thing.
D’Artagnan – a vainglorious, headstrong youth whos loyalty to king and friends is his virtue.
Horatio Hornblower – forget the swashbuckler you’ve seen on A&E. Horatio was a worried little man more concerned about his ragged stockings and pension then he was about a coming battle.
And so that’s the trick. If your character is unflawed, you are writing somewhere prior to 1930. If your character is so flawed he’s been booted out of heaven (or whatever) then you’ve written an adolescent video game character. The trick is to give your character just enough human flaws to make him interesting. Screw the entire ‘overcoming of weakness’ bit – that’s trite. It goes deeper than that. Sherlock Holmes never overcame his opium habit or his obsessive traits. Your character can carry his faults all the way through your story – that’s permitted. But he needs to have something that shows up from time to time to remind us that he’s weak, perhaps a caustic personality trait that isn’t funny, perhaps a minor medical problem, a quirk, a shyness, an ego. Give your character something we as readers can identify or sympathize with.
Perfection is boring and antiheroes are way overdone. Find something in the midpoint, something quirky and edgy and different. Like, say, a Goth girl without a drivers license, living in the rich part of town and loathing it.
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