Like a lot of people, I suspect, I have a continual internal debate over the issue of control. I was raised to ‘be responsible,’ to do my homework and my chores and to behave considerately toward others. I have no beef with this. As an adult, it translates to carrying out my obligations and working hard at my job and being a decent human being. Yet, along with these values comes an expectation that if I do these things, I get certain rewards. If I’m willing to work diligently, I can expect a decent living. If I’m a respectful and considerate person, I can expect to be liked and respected, even loved.
It’s been difficult for me to accept the reality of a recent prolonged period of unemployment in which none of my previously successful tools for job hunting have yielded results. And it’s as if the work I do as a writer doesn’t count because it pays so little.
I’m not just kvetching here. There’s a profound lesson in the realization that for however long we’re able to game the system and get things going our way in life, ultimately, the universe is bigger and badder and something will come along to prove how little power or control we truly have.
Economic disaster, disease, death, the loss of loved ones… Life is ephemeral. This is our predicament and challenge, and that of our characters, too. In the face of the inevitability of loss and death, how can there be any possibility of happy endings?
In traditional romance novels, the happy ending was love and marriage and the expectation of children and family. Whatever else might come, these are truly a triumph in the face of death. When individuals age and die, their genetic heritage can continue in their children and their progeny after them for many generations to come. That’s the ‘ever after.’
In many modern romances, it’s enough to have a ‘happy for now’ ending, in recognition that love shared is a joy in itself, and the world is a better place for the more loving people and relationships in it, regardless of how long they might endure or whether any children may come from it.
In fact, as human beings our perspectives are limited. We experience time as one moment flowing continuously into the next, an ever-changing present. But imagine time as a dimension we could transcend, to see the landscape of past and present and future spread out below us. From that perspective there is no death, no loss. There are whole lifetimes eternally woven into a great tapestry, or existing together like books on the shelves of a great library. Each representing a life from cradle to grave. Although the story comes to an end, it still exists, complete with each event, there to be visited again (déjà vu!). The love scenes are always there, adding their light and their warmth to the panorama of an eternal history.
Cross-posted from http://reviewsunleashed.com/?p=445
A lot what makes for a great character holds true for making a great superhero. A great character isn’t necessarily a good guy character. Witness Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or Syler on Heroes.
Human flaws and failings are part of what makes a character memorable and sympathetic. Villains can carry their failings to extremes, but heroes must draw a line for themselves even if it means a constant internal battle.
The Incredible Hulk is tortured with concern over the damage he may do unknowingly. Angel (again from Buffy the Vampire Slayer – that Joss Whedon can sure write ‘em) is tortured with guilt for his past and the threat of reverting to his evil alter ego.
A superhero doesn’t have to be tortured to be great, but Batman is a more sympathetic character for his tragic past. Superman is sympathetic as an orphan stranded alone on an alien planet. Spiderman is admirable for taking responsibility after his uncle’s death and giving up the girl he loves in order to protect her.
It’s their essential humanity, their failings and vulnerabilities and the courage to pursue their missions in the face of these that make a superhero great. If Iron Man were actually a robot, with no emotions, no ego, no concern for those he helped, helping people only because programmed to do so, he would not be a superhero at all. He’d be equipment, like the helicopter lifting in an air rescue team.
Superheroes have made a choice in the face of their flaws and vulnerabilities to use their powers to help those in need. A great superhero is one with memorable character as well as with great powers, one who continues to make the tough choices even when the best choice is not at all clear.
And where would the great superheroes be without their love interests? Superman had Lois Lane (and Lana Lang and other LLs), Spiderman had Mary-Jane Watson (and Gwen Stacy). Wonder Woman had Captain Steve Trevor.
Batman seemed to do okay with dating around, but it raised questions about his relationship with the boy wonder – and left him vulnerable in the face of such foes as Catwoman and Poison Ivy.
There have been superheroes without a significant love interest, but for those who have such a relationship, it adds considerable interest to the story lines. Not just when the special person is endangered, but for the added dimension it reveals to the Hero’s character. Even heroes can quake in the face of love, feel torn between conflicting priorities, struggle to find a balance between work and family life. Heroes who are more human by virtue of their love lives are also more heroic for rising to meet the challenges involved.
In my novel, Wonder Guy, Greg Roberts, an ordinary, if nerdish guy, is granted super powers by his fairy godmother, for the explicit purpose of impressing Gloria, the girl next door. He would never ordinarily have set out to become an actual hero, but once granted special powers, he feels responsible for using them to do some real good for people in need. In playing the hero, he becomes the hero.
My Team Guardian novellas (Sweet Mercy and Safe Haven (Shining Hope in the works)) each involve people whose ordinary lives have been changed forever after a Probability Bomb leaves them endowed with special powers. The good guys band together to police the rogues among them, and in the course of saving the world from the rogue Talents, find romance and meaning in unexpected ways.
Cross-posted from The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
A great character is memorable: like Katniss Everdeen or Frodo and Bilbo Baggins, like Jane Austen’s Emma, Harry Potter, Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden or Mary Janice Davidson’s Betsy the Vampire Queen. Or, moving to other media, like Robert Downey Jr.’s Iron Man or Spike from the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series.
A great character, as in Spike’s case, isn’t necessarily heroic or sympathetic. In fact, some human – or inhuman – failings may be one of the necessary ingredients to making a character memorable.
Tolstoy said, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Similarly, well-adjusted characters have a certain bland similarity, while flawed characters each have their own unique quality of quirkiness. Generic good guys may be wonderfully heroic, but lack the idiosyncrasies to make them memorable characters. Katniss was more concerned with survival than with being a good person. Frodo was overwhelmed by his burden. Bilbo was timid. Emma presumed to know what was best for others – and these are all good and sympathetic characters.
One of the reasons I’ve read the Lord of the Rings trilogy over and over again is because Tolkein had the gift of making me care about his characters. If he had told the story from the perspective of a powerful character like Gandalf or Aragorn or Galadriel, I would not have cared so much. The hobbits didn’t start out as heroes, but they were great characters: good natured people concerned with homey comforts, leading relatively simple lives until they were drawn into the great affairs of their world. They didn’t start out as heroes, but grew into their heroism as they rose to meet their challenges. As a fairly ordinary person myself, I could relate to the hobbits while Gandalf et al were too far beyond my ken.
To sum up, I’d say that what makes great characters is a combination of their unique human failings and how easily the readers can relate their concerns. My own characters tend to be regular people who are caught up in extraordinary events or are gifted with extraordinary powers.
In Wonder Guy, the first full-length novel in my Fairy Godmothers’ Union series, Greg Roberts and Gloria Torkensen start out this way. They’re regular people, just living their lives. Greg is more into the world of science, comics, his head than the world around him. Gloria is overly concerned with conventional practicality, and is at risk of losing the chance at a life that will fully engage her passions. The events of the story – which include magic, superpowers, a murder mystery, giant mosquitoes, dinosaurs and evil fae – force them both to grow, to realize their greater potential. Greg involves himself in the world and becomes a true hero; Gloria discovers her capacity for truly passionate, selfless love.
In my first full-length novel, Spirited, working artist Amelia Swenson accidentally unleashes a djinni and an evil succubus demon into the world and must deal with the consequences, seeking freedom for the handsome djinni and a way to save the world from the dangerous demon, traveling to the ancient past and rediscovering a capacity to love that she’d thought lost forever.
My Team Guardian stories involve people whose lives were changed forever when a Probability Bomb endowed them with special powers. They band together, the only ones capable of policing the rogue Talents among them. Thrown together while confronting these rogues, various members of the team find love and meaning in each story.
Most people probably don’t think of fairy godmothers as superheroes. They’re not buff young people in spandex. Their true natures and motivations are hard to understand, and they generally appear in supportive, rather than starring roles.
This last, more than anything, may be why they are underrated. But let’s look at the evidence.
Most superhero origin stories wouldn’t stand up to real scientific analysis. Radioactive spider bite imparts massive genetic changes rather than a rash? C’mon. Mutations that defy the laws of physics, allowing flesh to stretch far beyond normal capacities, bones to endure unheard of stresses, eyes to emit laser beams without going blind, etc, etc? I don’t think so. The rays of our sun are different than Superman’s sun of origin and that imbues him with amazing strength rather than a sunburn? This is not science. This is magic.
And what is a fairy godmother’s stock in trade? Magic – a superpower by another, more honest name. In fact the fairy godmother in Wonder Guy implies that what we see as magic is rooted in an advanced understanding of the nature of the universe, one in which the emotional connections between people exert a far greater power than the physical sciences would recognize.
Fairy godmothers have been part of our folklore for hundreds of years, appearing in tales shared by old wives with their grandchildren in peasant cottages throughout Europe as well as in the inventions of French courtiers. Fairy godmothers have stepped in and used their superior powers to help worthy young men and women find happiness in countless tales. They use their powers for good – another sign of the superhero.
They act as a balancing influence in a world where the powerful and corrupt too often hold all the cards. They assert that good hearts and characters have an edge all their own.
The superheroes of comics and movies often use their powers in dramatic ways – the flashier the better. Very often in folklore the fairy godmother makes a single appearance, imparting some magical gift or bit of wisdom and departing again, leaving center stage to the young hero or heroine of a story. They are generous, but it’s not like they don’t have anything better to do than interfere in others’ lives.
They are powerful, but use their power conservatively: just the right touch in the right time and place to do the trick.
In this regard, Wonder Guy is a bit different from my other Fairy Godmothers’ Union stories. The FGU makes an exception in his case because a lot of flashy magic is what it takes to accomplish their goals – as well as helping the good-hearted hero, Greg Roberts to win the regard of Gloria, the girl he’s loved since he was twelve.
With his fairy godmother’s help, Greg becomes a superhero of the buff young spandex-wearing, flashy dramatics kind — but it’s all due to the help of the unsung Fairy Godmothers’ Union supplying the magic.
Are fairy godmothers an iconic archetype representing the understated power of grannies throughout history? Of little old ladies working together and behind-the-scenes to help their offspring and communities thrive? Maybe so. I wouldn’t discount the possibility.
CROSSPOSTED from http://www.snarkymomreads.com/?p=1760
Snarky Mom wonders… have you ever had a situation where you’ve wished for a Fairy Godmother?
I’ve wished for a fairy godmother so often it’s probably what led me to start writing stories about them. The thing with fairy godmothers is that they are not genies or magic wishing wells. They don’t grant any and all wishes.
Cinderella, for example, and supposing her story real, probably wished for something or other everyday — if only to escape the notice of her step-mother or find some relief for her aching back or knees. As it was, she never asked for a ball gown or a carriage. She wished to attend the ball to which she’d been invited.
The fairy godmother stepped in at this time, when she never had before. She supplied more than was asked. A tricky genie or devil’s bargain might have sent Cinderella to the ball as she was: on foot, ragged and filthy with ashes.
Why did the fairy godmother step in at that time and not before? Why did she do everything to assure that Cinderella would not only attend the ball, but shine there? That she would show off the full potential of her natural beauty and catch the eye of the prince? That she would appear as a member of the respectable nobility and worthy of a like respect? This all suggests that the fairy godmother was motivated not by the letter of the wish, but by the spirit, that she had Cinderella’s best interests at heart all along.
Cinderella is a story, of course, and I can only imagine myself in the place of the fairy godmother and surmise her reasons and motives. Perhaps her powers to interfere in the natural course of events were limited, so that she could do only so much and she had to choose her time wisely. If she could only help once, she had to make sure that what she did would count to the best effect. By awaiting this one opportunity, she could change the whole course of Cinderella’s life for the better, using only a few small bursts of magic.
Choosing the moment required a broader understanding and perspective than Cinderella had. She could wish a thousand times for a thousand things and having those wishes granted might ultimately have done her no good. The fairy godmother’s perspective must have included an understanding of the affairs of the whole kingdom, the tastes of the prince, a sense of how a great many lives and goals interacted with each other and would be affected by what she did.
As I said, there have been many times in my life when I’ve wished for magical intervention. I’ve had my heart broken. I’ve lost a home to foreclosure. I’ve lived in poverty and lost loved ones to death, watched helplessly while they suffered from disease.
Death and disease and poverty have been with humanity from the start. Even supposing they are real, it may be that some things are beyond a fairy godmother’s powers to cure. It may be that there aren’t enough fairy godmothers to meet the demand. Perhaps I have already benefited in ways I never knew. And it may be that the moment has not been ripe for reaping the best effect from the application of my own fairy godmother’s help. Like the hero or heroine of any story, each of us is limited in our knowledge of what the morrow will bring and of the full consequences of our actions – or the fulfillment of our wishes. I like to think that if the fairy godmothers are out there, they do what they can, acting from superior wisdom, to produce the best possible results.