Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Heroes Can Be Smart, But Not Even-Keeled

In too many books I read, the hero is half-in and half-out. She’s not an idiot after all, and she can see that things may go wrong, so she half-commits, ready to bail at any time. And then, sometimes, along the way, the hero will remind herself not to get too excited when things go well, and not be too surprised when things go poorly. In the end, when she wins, she’s quietly pleased that her sensible attitude has won the day.

But the audience doesn’t care.

If your hero half-commits, your reader will half-commit. Your hero has to go all-in, drink the Kool-Aid, get wrapped up in the possibility of success. Even if the reader can tell that it’s all folly, we don’t want our hero to know that. Even if we know better, we don’t want to identify with heroes’ good sense, we want to identify with their naked emotion.

We want them all in, and then, after the crash, we want them all-out: No hope, no chance. Then, when they step back in, they can be little wiser, a little more wary, just for that third quarter of the story but by the end they’re all-in again.

We want them to be true believers, then totally disillusioned then true believers again. We want them to be unevenly keeled, tipping radically from one side to the other. To shift metaphors, the reader wants to ride an emotional rollercoaster with the hero. The bigger the hills and valleys, the more the reader will enjoy the book.


Jo said...

Can your hero still be quiet and calm and still go all in? I would say “yes,” but I seldom see that anymore. Where do I see it? Golden Age mysteries like George Bellairs’ Inspector Littlejohn books. He’s not haunted by demons, not warped by tragedy, and always polite but he doesn’t give up. Ever. Like a British bulldog.

Matt Bird said...

As with most of my rules, there are many wonderful exceptions, and series detectives are a good example. I wrote a very old piece about how I liked the Punisher and Conan comics, but they were poorly suited to the movies because they were so even-keeled:

Kerry Schultz said...

This is the bad point that I have noticed in the movies although that more people like it but I think that it must be made more like the story of the movie Deadpool.