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Boring Heroes, Fun Villains

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, Feb. 4, 2017
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It’s something so often encountered and/or mentioned in stories (be they comics or novels or film) that it’s becoming in itself a cliché: Heroes aren’t interesting because they’re straight arrows. Villains are fun because they’re the ‘bad boys’, the ones that can do all the shady things and that makes them interesting.

I find this a misconception.

I think that characters aren’t boring or fun due to their placement in the ‘villain-hero’ spectrum (or even ‘antagonist-protagonist’ spectrum) at all. It depends far more (if not entirely) on how much they are actually built to be more than simple token placeholders for that story’s needs.

A character that lacks a basic consistent motivation grid (i.e. strong, medium and low motivating stimuli), aspirations and hopes and a plan of action (or reaction) that syncs up with said motivations, aspirations and hopes will end up being blander than a dry cracker, and it won’t matter one bit if they’re the villain or the hero of the story.

That said, whether we as the audience ascribe to that character’s motivations, aspirations/hopes and logic or not is irrelevant- we will still be interested and fascinated even.

Lastly, I suppose that (at least lately) there have been several stories where the villains had more of the above than did the heroes. But that I think is simply a creative choice and a fad rather than anything inherent in the role of the story’s designated do-gooder.
The biggest proof of that, is stories that don’t contain any villains- every character is good, and there are several that can be characterized as heroes. Cases in point are “Inside Out” movie, “The Secret Garden” novel, “Spitfire” from our very own DD comics, and so on.

So what do you think? Is being a ‘straight arrow’ a de facto boring thing to be for a character in a story?

comment

anonymous?

PaulEberhardt at 10:19AM, Feb. 6, 2017

@bravo: Right! My memory of legends seems to have failed me this time, and he didn't start out as a nobleman, did he? But that only makes him stand out even more among all the other legendary medieval heroes.

bravo1102 at 4:10AM, Feb. 6, 2017

The Robin Hood legend is about a commoner who is a noble outlaw and grows out of the discontent over Royal Forests and how people were put outside the law for breaking often unfair laws. This was ret-coned into the reigns of Richard I and John but the stories first appear during the reigns of Edward II and reached their height in the time of Richard II. Both kings were notorious for allowing the tax abuse by local sheriffs and expanding the royal forests often taking away the food supply of locals who then would be persecuted by the sheriffs. So Robin was a hero for the common folk. Of course later tales had him rescuing Richard from Germany and all kinds of other things. Most modern interpretations owe more to Sir Walter Scott and Howard Pyle than any Medieval source. That's why I restricted my comments to Robin Hood movies and TV shows.

usedbooks at 3:25PM, Feb. 5, 2017

This is going to sound corny, but I think the best way to write/create characters is to get to know them. There is no formula for realism. Adding "weaknesses" and "faults" doesn't make a character realistic or relatable. Being human does. Having interests and motivations and personal goals and values do. If a character is human, they are interesting. Archetypes and pure tropes aren't that interesting. Not that the plot can't be fun, but the audience is unlikely to be invested in the characters.

PaulEberhardt at 12:23PM, Feb. 5, 2017

Robin Hood is special, because of the time the legend is from. Medieval heroes weren't exactly expected to be good, but that they staunchly act according to their noble status - think Siegfried, King Arthur or Beowulf (although they all had their adventures centuries before Robin Hood). Now, Robin hood is different, because he defied expectations (which would be 1. going into exile, 2. freeing King Richard from the dungeons of castle Trifels, 3. raising an army together with him, and 4. coming home to exact terrible revenge, laying waste to everything or, failing that, dying in a valiant attempt to do so) and sided with the commoners, that other noblemen wouldn't even bother to notice, adopting their ways and listening to them to is great advantage. No matter if the story is really true it must clearly have struck a nerve.

PaulEberhardt at 12:07PM, Feb. 5, 2017

You've got a point there, especially usedbooks. But you've got to work on your hero to make him interesting. If a character is just straightforwardly "good" that makes him of her predicable. Worse even if they start preaching some holier-than-thou morals. Whenever that happens I usually go and read something else, because it's just pathetic. If you haven't got a moral compass in real life you won't get it from some lame police-and-thieves type story either. --- All in all I think that writing an interesting hero is the ultimate challenge for a writer. Writing villains or antiheroes is an artform in itself, too, but you've got a lot more elbowroom there.

Corruption at 8:39PM, Feb. 4, 2017

For a Hero to be interesting, they have to be written not to symbolize all thing heroic and Good, but as people who either chose to do what they consider to be the right thing, or have no choice. They need to have motivations we can relate to and understand. The same general principle applies to Villains as well. Oh, and Robin Hood was written as a bit of propaganda long after King John died (Yes, he did become King in his own right). It was done to promote a rival claimant to the thrown from another branch of the royal family.

Corruption at 8:37PM, Feb. 4, 2017

A straight arrow character who would normally be as boring as heck might actually be interesting if put in a situation where this causes problems. Take Superman for example: Can you imagine how he would deal in a situation where the authorities do not subscribe to his views of Good and Evil, but are too good for him to destroy? One thing I HATE with a passion that burns worse then the infection after a wild party is when they go overboard to load down the characters with more emotional issues then you'd find in a shrink's client list! So, the characters can be too simple and too complex.

usedbooks at 5:16PM, Feb. 4, 2017

Basically, my argument is that an incomplete character is boring regardless of motivation or alignment. If a bas guy's only trait is he's bad, he's boring. Same for a good guy. Badly written characters are boring. The villains in the Lupin III franchise are mostly incredibly boring. They are greedy and evil and sometimes not even human-looking. Throw-away characters created for plot. Any character molded more by plot than by human traits/interests is essentially more setting than character. If a villain has all the human qualities of a natural disaster, he's boring even if he makes the story interesting. Moving the plot provides an illusion of interesting but if his job could be done by an atmospheric condition, he's not that compelling. Meanwhile the equally uninteresting protagonists foil his plans, they are just removing the dynamics from the world. So they are creating nothingness in a characterless setting.

usedbooks at 5:06PM, Feb. 4, 2017

My third completely non-boring very good guy protagonist is Steven Universe. He's adorable and entertaining and postive. He gets upset sometimes but bounces back.

usedbooks at 5:01PM, Feb. 4, 2017

I truly love the real straight arrow good guys. That can't be their only trait, of course. They have to be human beings with interests and hobbies and tempers. But having someone who is kind and passionate and adheres to personal morals despite going through the ringer -- and succeeding because of it -- is beautiful and interesting. I loved the character of Vash the Stampede in Trigun (in the early episodes) because the world saw he was such a passionate hero, wanting to save everyone, insisting no one get killed (and being only famous for bringing destruction despite that). Of course, the series ruined the character later, imo. :P Another favorite "straight arrow" protagonist is Nausicaa. She absolutely made an impression on me. I seek to model protagonists on her. She sought to help not only her people but the opposing armies and even the "monsters," and she succeeded by being unbelievably peaceful, kind, and brave. Never boring.

JohanBroad at 1:47PM, Feb. 4, 2017

" Is being a ‘straight arrow’ a de facto boring thing to be for a character in a story?" It depends. Is the Straight Arrow written as a cardboard archetype or as a person who has to struggle to maintain their moral code in spite of extreme temptation and/or outrageous provocation? The straight-up goody-two-shoes Golden Age Superman was totally boring! He never killed the villain, always followed the law. And you KNEW he was going to win in the end so there was little point to reading his stories. Now, if Superman was written as a real person with real emotional weaknesses, who had to constantly resist the temptation to say 'Fuck it!' and slaughter his enemies, enforce his will, and take over the world, I think he would have been a much mire interesting character.

ozoneocean at 1:04PM, Feb. 4, 2017

I don't think hero's have to have flaws or weaknesses at all; they don't need to be relatable to be likeable. Villains don't need flaws or weaknesses to be likeable. Relatability is a different thing. In fact flaws and weakness can actively undermine a character, depending on the type of story you have. The confidence, and directness of purpose that's so attractive ein a villain can be just as appealing in a hero

bravo1102 at 9:51AM, Feb. 4, 2017

It's all about how you write the hero. A good character is a good character. A hunk of wood no matter how heroic is still a piece of wood. Look at The legends is Arthur. Galahad is dull, dull, dull. Percival is fascinating as a he evolves from wild selfishness to compassionate paladin. Lancelot is interesting because of his being torn between Arthur and Guinevere. In the stories where he fails he's even more interesting. In the ones where he's the Superman of knighthood he's dull even if played by Richard Gere. Heroes have to have flaws and weaknesses.

bravo1102 at 9:43AM, Feb. 4, 2017

Ozoneocean, if you're going to use Robin Hoody at least use a good example. Like Errol Flynn as the charming rogue versus the stiff paladins of Medieval justice Claude Rains and Basil Rathbone. Richard Green was marvelous too and his Prince John was the awesome Donald Pleasance. Face it Kevin Costner sucked and that was the worst depiction of Robin Hood ever. Men in Tights is far superior.

dbartnerd at 6:48AM, Feb. 4, 2017

I don't find heroes boring. The biggest argument I hear when someone is telling me about heroes being boring comes in Superman ( of course). I personally do not find supes boring at all. I don't think he needs a stand alone comic because nothing is difficult for him. (when DC is not depowering him....and they never should) no one cares about the time he burned a burger because it took him 5 minutes away from the grill to take down the atomic skull. Actually if all his stories were written just like that they would be a lot better. Back on track, when you use him for what he is. The non stoppable pillar of instant justice that evil just can't hang with, HE IS AWESOME. Hes an awesome plot device. As for other heroes its kinda hard to find heroes in Superman's shoes just because of how over powered he is. (I'm not saying they don't exist I just don't care to list them.) Every other hero by nature has to deal with natural conflict of being a hero ( will I survive this? can I do this?)

KAM at 6:41AM, Feb. 4, 2017

Robin Hood, Ozone? Your example of a straight arrow hero is a guy famous for STEALING? Okay, it's from the allegedly evil rich to give to the allegedly hard-working poor, but still he's in that moral grey area of Chaotic Good, whereas "boring heroes" usually fall more squarely into Lawful Good. And frankly Costner tends to bore me in most of his films. ;-)

ozoneocean at 2:35AM, Feb. 4, 2017

I don't think it's that they want to be bad, I genuinely think that it's caused by the writing; if you make the villains more appealing that's who your audience goes for. In traditional stories of Robin Hood for example, people rarely EVER go for King John, The Sheriff of Nottingham or Sir Guy of Gisbourne, but in the Kevin Costner version, just like Die Hard Alan Rickman AGAIN stole the show!

MOrgan at 2:24AM, Feb. 4, 2017

Maybe the people who complain about heroes being boring just want to be bad themselves?

ozoneocean at 1:38AM, Feb. 4, 2017

Good guys don't need failings or emotional weaknesses to make them appealing either, that can make them REALATABLE, but that's a different thing- do you want your character relatable and identifiable with by the audience or do yo want them as to be an admirable, untouchable god-like figure? Those are both valid choices depending on the sort of story you want to write. If I was writing Superman I'd go for he latter and write him as a force of nature type character, the relatability would be through his alter-ego and those around him only, NEVER in his hero form! Heroes of that type need to be paladins with confidence, self assurance and a plan, contrasting with the chaos and horror around them.

ozoneocean at 1:28AM, Feb. 4, 2017

I agree entirely. Good is not boring and bad isn't fun or cool, it just depends on how they're written. For example- I like the bad guys in Die Hard better because the hero is a sweaty, balding, grunting meat-head in his underwear, while the baddies have stylish suits, cool hair styles, and fancy accents... They also have more of a plan of action, goals and a strong motivation, while Yippee-Ki-yay Mclane is just flying by the seat of his pants. But when it comes to The Saint or James Bond, the sppeal of them for me (and their best stories) is when they know what they're doing, they have a better plan, they're more suave and cultured than their adversaries (the British Officer archetype)- that trait is just as atractive in a hero as it is in a villain.


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