Writing “Awesome” Characters

Ok, I know that the title of this article most likely isn’t all that unique. But it was the one title I could think of that really got my point across quickly. Like a book title. Sort of.

Moving on:

Every writer, or almost every writer, will most likely want their action characters to be “awesome,” just like comic book fans like “awesome” heroes. Now, obviously, this won’t apply to all characters, all stories, or all writers. Cozy mysteries and steamy romances don’t really have any need for awesomeness. A hot hero and a breathless heroine, and they’re in business.

(I’m sorry, romance writers. That was mean.)

But, for those of us who write action, hardcore mystery, fantasy, sci-fi, or other “speculative fiction” genres, we most likely want cool, awesome characters to inhabit our cool, awesome worlds/cities/villages/galaxies/insert-setting-here.

Problem is: “awesomeness” is subjective. Just like a character’s physical attractiveness is subjective. That’s why I won’t ever insist that so-and-so character is hot/pretty/whatever to the reader. Maybe I’ll just describe him/her and let sir/madam reader decide for themselves, or maybe I’ll mention that another character finds him/her attractive. In that case, we’re dealing with the character’s opinion, which is fine. All the best characters should have opinions, like real people.

Same idea with awesomeness or badassitude.

Take Anakin Skywalker (from the prequel trilogy), for example. His actions are awesome. Look at his body count! Look at his weapon (lightsaber earns automatic bonus cool points in my book)! Look at his moves, the way he and Obi-Wan duke it out in movie III! Yeah, so he loses. That was kind of a foregone conclusion, right? Given the existence of the original trilogy?

So, his feats of strength/skill aren’t being questioned. Physically, he’s great. Strong, athletic, badass.

But a lot of people tend to HATE him.

Why?

Because of his personality. I don’t know if the actor is just bad (I don’t think I’ve seen him anywhere else), or if he was just given a sucky script to work with, or what, but the sheer terror that surrounded Darth Vader in the original trilogy was pretty much eroded from pretty-boy Anakin Skywalker because he acted like a whiny, tantrum-prone teenager.

You want him to be torn apart by his wife’s death that he’s seen in a dream, and thinks will come true? Great! Opportunity for character development. The overall storyline of Revenge of the Sith is good — he’s getting corrupted over time by Mr. Senator. But the acting just…

I won’t go into details. We’ll be here all day.

On the other hand, let’s take Han Solo. From the original series, because I haven’t seen TFA yet and, thanks to some internet spoilers I’ve been exposed to, I don’t want to until I’ve seen internet spoilers of later movies and I see how it all works out (*sob*).

Han Solo isn’t a force guy. He doesn’t have space magic like the Jedi or the Sith. He’s just a guy with a gun and a crappy ship. And a walking carpet for a best friend. But he is cool. Is it the attitude? The way he pretends to be a bad guy while simultaneously supporting hero Luke and Luke’s surprise-incest-sister Leia? I don’t know. Maybe it’s just Harrison Ford magic. Not even I can pinpoint it.

But he’s a really cool guy.

A lot of characters are like that. You’ve gotta just write them as best you can, don’t make it all about just making them cool. Han Solo had a few genuine moments, too.

They have to have emotions. Emotions are never not-cool. Because emotions are human. And an inhuman protagonist (unless they are literally inhuman, i.e., an alien or android) is never a good idea.

The heroes of my stories are, by my opinion, cool. They’re fighting against an incredible enemy I won’t go into detail about because spoilers, and they don’t even know what they’re fighting yet. But they won’t go down easy, and they never give up on each other. Are there bumps and issues and fights along the way? Of course, because that sort of thing happens in real life. But life moves ever on, and the characters and story has to as well.

So, in conclusion, it’s all a matter of subjectivity. I can talk all day long about the different things I find awesome about Han Solo, or Samantha Carter from Stargate SG-1, or what I don’t like about Anakin Skywalker, but at the end of the day, it’s just my opinion. Maybe there’s someone out there who loves Anakin Skywalker?

Maybe I’m not the only one in the world who actually liked Jar-Jar in the prequel trilogy?

Don’t respond to that. Please.

Like I said, it’s impossible to write for everyone. Chances are that someone out there is going to find the heroes of my stories unbearable. But I love them, and they tell the stories that are true to themselves. And that’s all we can ask of any writer or story.

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