Sep 22, 2009

Characters have to do Things, part 1

Okay, we have a problem.

I'm reading my review book, minding my own business, when suddenly it occurs to me - has the main character been truly active at all yet? I'm halfway through a 400-page book, and seriously this boy has been sick, captured, or both pretty much nonstop. He's a strapping young lad, handsome, hot with magic, good with the ladies...you'd think with that kind of setup he'd at least be on his feet occasionally. And he is from time to time, but really his non-sick/non-captured moments are the exceptions, falling between long bouts of swooning and puking and being in trances and comas.

Even when he is healthy, he's largely passive - he's learning things, or being told stories, or being introduced to new cultures. All of which is great, and on the whole I'm really enjoying the book, but it's just so frustrating when you want your main character to be, I don't know, smiting things, and instead he's always passed out in the back of the car.

This is part of a larger problem I've noticed among authors who are writing out of love for their characters rather than out of the hopes of entertaining their audience. It's great if you love your characters, but this isn't fan fiction (I hope) - this isn't like "oh, we all know how great Legolas is, and wouldn't it be great to read a story where he's always in distress and Aragorn has to sweep him up on his horse and protect him and carry him to safety and nurse him back to health and..." ahem. I'll stop there.

But yeah - that would be awesome, but your novel is not Legolas Aragorn Slash-Fic. It is a novel. We, the readers, need to meet your character and learn what's so great about him...and we can't do that if your character is always passed out. I'm sorry.

******EDIT******
This issue really seems to have been floating around in the cosmos this week - there are a couple other great blog posts on the same topic here and here.

4 comments:

maya said...

Is this a growing trend with male lead characters? If so, then someone should bring it to the attention of a sociologist. It might make an interesting study.

Brandon said...

Are you describing Harry Potter? That was my biggest issue for most of the series (at least until Rowling got too popular and everyone stopped editing her work).

Erin said...

It happens with both male and female characters...I don't think it's so much a "trend" as an oversight on the part of authors who don't realize what they're doing.

It's funny you'd mention Harry Potter, Brandon, because I was actually going to give those books as a good example of somebody who gets around this...not that this doesn't happen with him, for sure he's sick and passive a lot, but at least she gets him back on his feet and off doing rash, ill-advised things as soon as possible, rather than just letting him languish.

The Rejectionist said...

Yes! Characters have to do things! Exactly!