Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Whiners Not Welcome

By JC Lynne

As writers, it's our job to create multidimensional characters. Characters in whom readers will see something of themselves. Some characters take a lot of fleshing out. Some characters arrive in full and frequently irritating glory. 

If you've ever attended a class on character development, you know strong plots are generally character driven. You've also heard the adage: A happy character is a dull character. Torture them. Hurt them and then hurt them some more.

Characters, no matter the genre, no matter the author, no matter the plot, come in two types. Static and Dynamic. Static characters remain unchanged throughout the course of the story. Dynamic characters shift and change as the story progresses. 

There's a place for both in your writing. Think about Obi-Wan Kenobi. In the first films, IV, V, VI, Obi-Wan is a static character. He's what we literature teachers like to call wise counsel. He appears to offer advice and guidance to our young hero (and whining extraordinaire) Luke Skywalker. Obi-Wan lived his life, made his choices and mistakes, and gives Luke the benefit of his experience.

Alec Guinness may have hated Star Wars, but not many can spew 'rubbish' with gravitas.

I like to pretend the prequels never happened, but for the sake of this post I'll brush my teeth or take a shower afterward. Before Lucas over extended his story telling abilities and dragged perfectly good characters and a so-so plot through the mud, the young Obi-Wan Kenobi was a dynamic character. He traveled his adventure and learned his painful lessons.

La la la, can't hear you! Prequels never happened. Oh but Ewan is so delish!

Here's where I start to gnash my teeth. In my current series, The Esau Continuum, one of my protagonists is a pretty well put together and capable person. I've had some comments about how she's too perfect. Women like her don't exist in real life. Readers won't buy her as a character. Bollocks, I say.

My dynamic characters are also put together and sound of mind, mostly. You know why? Because I can't stand frickin' whiny characters. Hell, I don't even like whiny music.

Sorry if you enjoy this one....I'm definitely changing tunes when this one pops up.

Conversations from the Circus: In the car. Me switching a song after the first three notes.

Son 2: Why'd you change that song?

Me: I hate it.

Son 2: Let me guess...

The two of us in concert: It's too whiny

Me: You know me so well.

For  comparison, not whiny and Kaleo basically rocks it all. 

Pardon the sacrilege, but even Harry Potter grew too whiny for me to handle.

Rational, fair-minded people can have problems too. They just don't do a lot of hand wringing about them.


Case in point, V. E. Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, a novel so achingly good it makes me doubt my existence as a writer. Cough cough. Shake off the soul crushing doubt. Okay, case in point, Kell and Delilah. Two protagonists, both dynamic, both young and not one single whiny moment between them. Sure, they're on the run. They're facing crazy odds. They are also practical and sturdy.

Dynamic characters don't have to be weak or whiny. Static characters can be a valuable asset to a story. In either case, they don't have enough cheese to pair with the whine in my opinion. And believe me....given my addiction to cheese, well it's saying a lot.


David Sharp said...

I certainly share your distaste for whiny music. Why IS that so popular?

How do you feel about Veruca Salt of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? Whining is kind of her thing. But then it makes her inevitable come-upance all the more satisfying.

JC Lynne said...

Yes, I'm a fan of instant karma for whiny characters. Bad guys too. That's what makes Roal Dahl pleasantly dark and very satisfying. I dislike the whiny protagonist choosing action that requires validation from those around him. "I must do this alone." When doing it alone is clearly the weaker path.

I much prefer the common sense approach.

From Firefly War Stories:

This is something the captain has to do himself.

NO! It isn't!

Oh, well then.

Laura Mahal said...

You know how people are talking about carbon credits? (Some people... Well, at least some people used to be talking about carbon credits!)

I'm thinking about writing a blog post called "Karma Credits."

As you say, whiny people should get their comeuppance. As should narcissists. (One need look no further than Alexander McCall Smith and his treatment of self-enamored Bruce Anderson in the 44 Scotland Street series.)

Why do some people (I must have a thing for that expression today...) seem to feel they need to box characters in? Can a character not aspire to be an amazing person, and thus, be outside-the-box of well-rounded expectations? I've written an entire novel about a young woman who tries her best to do the right thing, despite having a baby at age fourteen. The latter part of that last sentence doesn't define her, nor should it. What would be the point of my writing her story if she behaved according to everyone's expectations?

Man. This world needs some rebellry. And if that's not already a word, you can say you first saw it here on The Writing Bug. :-)

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