Take time to deliberate, but when the time for action has arrived, stop thinking and go in.
- Napoleon

Friday, February 16, 2007


I think I figured it out. You know... Why my main characters may be hard for some people to connect with.

1) They aren't damaged.

I mean, look at the trend in movies/TV. (It's easier to see there.) Every hero is damaged in some way - either physically or psychologically or emotionally. "Forrest Gump" is a prime example. Hell, even Batman has some deep mental issues these days. Or Superman. I've heard it makes heroes more human. I just think it puts forth the idea that to be human is to be damaged. I don't happen to think humans are inherently damaged. I want to see and read about heroes who inspire me to reach greater heights myself - not remind me of how lowly man can be. Make 'em soar... Not crawl.

2) I don't delve into the minutaie of my characters' lives.

Okay, so I do know every little thing about my characters, and I've written pages and pages of background for the MCs. But those are the scenes I cut when I'm editing. They don't drive the story forward. And that's supposedly the main thing for any scene. Right? Does anyone really care that Alex McKenzie was raised by a over-bearing, bible-thumping Mama and a hen-pecked bookish father? It was a great scene and it really showed factors that made her who she was, but it did absolutely nothing for the story, so I axed it.

On another site - I don't remember which one - I read one person complaining about my favorite TV show. Her problem was the early episodes don't give enough background about the characters. Umm... That's actually what I like about the show. It's a crime drama, for pete's sake. I just want to see the good guys solve the problem, save the victims and defeat the bad guy. I don't need to know the MC is having marital problems because he works too much. I don't want to know the effects being kidnapped has on the psyche of one of the other characters. I don't want to know anyone had a horrible childhood. Unless learning these things drives the story along.

Take, for instance, CSI. Giving me little details about Catherine throughout the show is cool, but I don't really want to see her whiny child being bratty about her working too much. Well, duh. You're a single mom, working the night shift to make ends meet, and you're going to bruise some kid feelings. It may make the character 'more human' but it doesn't drive the story at all. On the other hand, showing Grisham's affinity for bugs. That's key to many episodes and shows why he knows what he knows. Background to drive the story.

Surely I'm not the only one who feels this way... Or maybe I am, in which case, I'm awfully glad I like my stories. Chances are I may be one of the few people reading them.


Anissa said...

I agree. Hints of the characters' backgrounds that tell who they are and why they respond as they do are great. They propel the story forward, keep me wanting more. Large info dumps of backstory pull me right out. Not to say that I'm not guilty of it myself. As much character development as I do in advance, some still gets into the first draft. That's what revisions are for (at least for me). That's where I cut out all the unnecessary blather. Because if it doesn't drive the story forward, it can only slow it down.

So no, I don't think you're the only one who feels that way. ;)

Anissa said...
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B.E. Sanderson said...

I didn't think so, but I'm not exactly in step with the rest of the band. Thanks for confirming I'm not nuts. ;oD

Janimé said...

I've never really thought about it before I guess.

You are right though about the trend to make the hero "vunerable". That did not used to be the case. At one time Superman had no foibles.

I guess I too like to have enough details about a character's background to move the story along, but not so much that it becomes a distraction.

One of my favorite authors, Victor Hugo, was occasionally very guilty of TMI (too much information).

I vividly recall reading through 60 pages of background material (I counted them) in Les Mis. for one minor character. ACK!

B.E. Sanderson said...

Ack. Hugo... I love the man, but look in the dictionary under verbose, and you'll should see his picture. I skipped pages of detail in Ninety-Three - character and scene and background material.

The movie I watched last night was part of the reason I posted this today. I'll explain the rest tomorrow in a post about endings. (I think. I'm not sure where I'm going with it, but it'll be good.)