Archive for June 15th, 2009

Jun 15 2009

Please Do Not Make Generically Nice Characters

I provide advice about how to write novels, comic books and graphic novels. Most of my content applies to fiction-writing in general, but I also provide articles specifically about superhero stories.

Generic niceness is a dangerous trait to give a character–particularly the protagonist. First, it’s probably not very interesting if the character is always agreeable and only does things that the audience is meant to sympathize with. That reduces the potential for conflict.  In practice, a character that’s 100% nice is usually boring and/or a Mary Sue.  Here are some traits that suggest that the character may have issues with generic niceness.

  • Polite
  • Compassionate
  • Agreeable
  • Kind
  • Personable
  • Friendly
  • Social
  • Helpful
  • Pleasant
  • Nice, of course.
  • A complete lack of flaws besides ones that nobody would hold against him (e.g. “he tries too hard,” unless that leads him to make decisions that most readers will disagree with)

 

If your protagonist has traits like these, I’d recommend taking them in a direction that they might create some problems for the characters.  For example, perhaps the character is so social that he tries to negotiate even when the audience knows that action is necessary.  A character that is too polite might be stiff or reluctant to speak her mind. A character that is too helpful might try to help even when it’s unwise for her to do so.  Alternately, perhaps the character’s traits lead him into conflict with non-antagonists*.  For example, being agreeable and trusting is generally desirable, but if you were a prison guard, your coworkers would be on your case all the time.

 

*I think non-antagonists would probably work better here because an antagonist conflicting with a hero for being too nice would probably be one-dimensionally unsympathetic.  A conflict with a relatively sympathetic character would probably develop the protagonist more and be more emotionally interesting.  For further details here, please see #5 in How to Fix Mary Sues.

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Jun 15 2009

Brian Taylor’s Review Forum

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