Thursday, April 4, 2013

Character Building: Part 2

Yesterday, I blogged about the first five characters I absolutely and totally fell in love with because of their character.  In this post, I'm going to examine what they all have in common and what I believe makes them great character.  I'll probably refer to all of them (except maybe Mara, since, sadly, she is pretty unknown) plus some other favorite characters of mine.

You know what, to make things simple, I'll just list the characters I will be referencing here...
  • Belle (Beauty and the Beast)
  • Thorin Oakenshield (The Hobbit)
  • Samwise Gamgee (Lord of the Rings)
  • Eowyn (Lord of the Rings)
  • Luke Skywalker (Star Wars)
  • Elizabeth Swann (Pirates of the Caribbean)
  • Rumplestiltskin/Mr. Gold (Once Upon a Time.  I thought about doing Belle, just for fun, but that might get rather annoying!)
  • Simba (The Lion King)

Let's find what they all have in common, shall we?

They either know who they are, or by the end of the story they discover who they are.  Strong characters need to be just that, strong.  They can't be having an identity crisis in the middle of an epic battle!  And if they are, they need to solve it by the end of the story!  Finding out who they are has to be one of sub-plots if they don't already know who they are!  I know this sounds confusing, but I hate movies with weak 'heroes' who aren't even sure who they are or what they should do.  (cough cough cough Cinderella...Gale, Peeta, Bonnie Silver, Aurora, Johnis, Silvie, Darsal, Billos...not that I'm pointing fingers or anything...)

I'm not saying to make perfect characters.  I'm saying to make strong characters.   Sure, they can doubt themselves sometimes, but they have to overcome that.  For instance, Belle asks her father if he thinks she is odd.  She doesn't dwell on the fact she does not fit in, and soon forgets her own problems when her father's machine starts working.  I like this scene because it shows how sweet and sacrificial she is, and also shows she is not wholly perfect.  She feels weird sometimes too.

On my list of characters, Luke Skywalker, Elizabeth Swann, Simba, and to some degree Mr. Gold all discover who they are through the course of the story.  Luke, in the last movie, finally decides that he is a Jedi, like his father before him.  Simba has to take his place as king.

I want to spend a bit of time on Elizabeth.  I simply love how she discovers who she is.  She spends most of 'Dead Man's Chest' going through an identity crisis.  I'm respectable, but I don't want to be, do I?  I love Will, I want to marry him, do I?  The compass does not work, does it?  Do I like Jack?  Is Jack telling me the truth?  No!  He's lying!  It's not fair what has happened to it?

Not to give away the movie (SPOILER) but at the end when she finally betrays Jack, he tells her who she is.  Sure, the kissy part is all gross and you feel bad for Will, but I just love the dialogue after she chains Jack to the mast to be eaten.  (Stuff in parenthesis I added, kinda like what I think she thought or meant.  You'll get it)
Elizabeth:  "It's after you not us. (Right?)  Don't you see, this is the only way!  (Is it?)  I...I'm not sorry.  (Am I?)
Jack (smiles): Pirate!

I'm sorry, I just love that dialogue.  With one word, Jack confirms everything Elizabeth dreaded, but subconsciously knew, about herself.  And if you notice in the third movie, there are no more identity problems with Elizabeth.  Sure, she feels remorse and doubt occasionally over what she did, but she does not struggle like she did in 'Dead Man's Chest.'

Also, her identity troubles are shown through the different outfits she wears throughout 'Dead Man's Chest.'  We first see her in a wedding gown, then dressed like a boy, then a more feminine version of the boy outfit, etc.

Characters need to know who they are.  Rumplestiltskin is always quick to inform anyone who asks that he is, indeed, the Dark One.  He knows exactly who he is.

One person who I feels needs mentioning who is not on the list is Regina from 'Once Upon a Time'.  Not necessarily because she is a good example of this, but because of some awesome dialogue from the episode 'We Are Both' of Season 2.  (Which happens to be all about the townspeople trying to sort out their identities figures)

Archie, the town shrink, also known as Jiminy Cricket, approaches a beaten Regina, trying to show her some compassion.

Archie:  Regina!
Regina:  What?
Archie:  Hey, I just, with the town now realizing everything and everybody getting a new start, I thought maybe you'd like to talk.  Sort things out, try to figure out who you are inside.
Regina:  (pauses for a moment, then leans forward scowling, but with a slight smirk)  I know who I am.  (queue 'evil queen' theme)

Nothin beats a baddie who knows he or she is bad, right?

All this to say, give characters a good, strong grasp on their identites.  Another rabbit trail rant, there are a ridiculous amount of fantasy novels with an all-teen character base, and ALL of the teens are either perfectly strong, mature, and confident, (and, might I add, WAY more intelligent than the adult villain) or they are all immature, wavering, and timid.  Both are obnoxious.

Wait a minute, Kaycee.  I thought you had an All-Teen quest group in Ember Flame who DID happen to beat the adult baddie!

Quite true.  Though I might point out that Caran IS an adult.  But the reason I name my books after my characters is because that's what that particular book is about.  'Ember Flame' was about Ember discovering who she was....Ember Flame.  'Hail Frost' is about Hail having to choose which side of him to be.  I think my characters are fairly confident and strong, but they have their doubting moments and they have internal conflict.  I mean, I'm a teenager.  I know how it is.  I have identity issues, which I am told get better with age.  I don't get them often, I'm usually pretty content in my list of identities   (Christian, daughter, sister, friend, writer, peanut butter consumer, and procrastinator.)  But sometimes, when I want to add or replace or move up in importance an identity (sometimes procrastinating takes precedence over peanut butter...those are what are commonly referred to as 'bad days.') I lack confidence and have to reassess what I am doing.

All that to say, I think I can justify my novels because of the struggles my characters have.  The whole story is built around it.

Whew, another long post done.  And we're just getting started!


  1. I will read this later. However, I wanted to share this with you because I thought you'd enjoy it, considering your dislike of Les Mis... :)

    It's clean. (Not all the honest trailers are clean... I would not recommend watching all of them, mostly because of language/crudeness in many of them... but they are... honest)

  2. Loved the post! (I love that quote by Regina, too, sort of a, "I've always known who I am... even when the rest of you were clueless." moment)... I have yet to watch more than the first couple of episodes of season 2, but I think that quote must have been in one of those first episodes because it sounds familiar.

    1. Thanks! I think the quote came from the second episode, so you probably did see it. :) Haven't watched the video yet, but I will soon. I've been really sick the past two days. :( Thanks for linking it! :)