Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The Hero Project #17: Beware of Default Mode

So, I’m still making my lists… Types of love interest:
  1. The Conscience: bring the protagonist around to goodness
  2. The Goody Two Shoes: the protagonist loosens them up
  3. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl: loosens the protagonist up. Has there ever been a manic pixie dream boy?
  4. The Total Bad Ass
  5. The Daemon Lover
  6. Out of Their League
  7. The Best Friend Seen in a New Light
  8. The Best Friend They’ve Always Had a Crush On: oblivious to their affections
  9. The Nymphomaniac Virgin: The heroine of every bad coming of age movie. Totally sweet and innocent but can’t wait to have sex with our hero or heroine when the opportunity presents itself.
  10. Warts and All: they’re neither savior or damnation, which is far too rare in movies
Types of friends:
  1. The Conscience
  2. The Mentor
  3. The Helping Hand
  4. The Counter-Example: makes the hero look good by being hopelessly lame
  5. The Trickster: gets hero in trouble to liberate them
  6. The Corrupter: gets hero into trouble for their own purposes.
  7. The Weasel: blatantly and ineptly follows their own self interest
  8. The Bad Ass
  9. The Object of Envy
Tomorrow I’ll try to plug these four types into the new character creation checklist I’m working up. In the meantime, let’s grapple with something: aren’t these just lists of clichés to avoid? If these have all been done a bunch of times, why do it again? Stock characters cause audiences to roll their eyes. But they exist for a reason: They provide shortcuts when you need them, and all stories need a few.

Yes, the goal should be to come up with new types, new motivations, new stories, every time. But we always fall short of our goals. Even if you do come up with an original story idea that has real verisimilitude, you’ll find that you don’t have the space to flesh out every character in every scene. In (500) Days of Summer, I thought that the writers came up with realistic lead characters in a very believable situation. Here’s the ultimate compliment: the core emotional conflict reminded me more of real life than it did other movies. But, the same couldn’t be said for the hero’s confidants. His guy-friends were lightly sketched, and his wise-beyond-her-years little sister was insufferable.

Even when you’re really hitting a vein of truth, you can still find yourself falling back on cliché in minor parts of the story. Don’t beat yourself up for writing a “typical” scene every once in a while, but you want to at least make sure you know which cliché is which. The biggest fear is that, in an attempt to avoid using any clichés at all, you begin to use them blindly. If you find yourself thinking, “this is the sort of scene where the friend always says [blank]”, then you need to at least stop yourself and ask: “Wait, which type of best friends would have which type of advice?” It may seem reductionist to identify ten types of best friends or love interests or villains, but it’s better than merging every possible type into one platonic ideal.


Anonymous said...

When F. Scott Fitzgerald was too tired to write but couldn't sleep he'd make lists. Just sayin'. Not even that you're procrastinating--for our benefit!--but that you're in good company. Keep up the awesome work.

Beth said...

Great link to Manic Pixie Dream Girls! As for the elusive Manic Pixie Dream Boy, my husband suggests Johnny Depps character in Benny and Joon.