The Sword and Laser discussion

Thoughts on common character quirks

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message 1: by Mykander (new)

Mykander | 19 comments Apologies for the misleading Topic title if it works out that way, I couldn't think of the easiest way to summarize my point enough to make the intent clear in the topic.

Anyways, kind of one question in two parts. The first part being, am I setting unrealistic expectations for myself out of authors in creating their characters and their interaction with other characters, and if not, has anyone ever asked why they do it?

My issue comes down to two main issues:

1) Love at first sight and/or romance coming from nowhere by virtue of two people spending time together.

2) Decisions by characters that are completely in contradiction to the character created by the author up to that point.

I know I don't need an example for #1, pick up any two books by different authors and you are almost guaranteed to see an example of either situation. Most recently I've reading the Shadow series by Jon Sprunk and finally picking up the released books of the Kingkiller Chronicles by Rothfuss. Sprunk doesn't do anything particularly different than the love at first sight mechanic, but it's there and immediate upon introduction of the male protagonist to the female, and the less said about Kvothe and Denna the better.

As for #2, I can pull from Sprunk again as my most recent read of a perfect example. The main character is an assassin by trade who has his own rules and guidelines he follows on how to manage his job which has kept him alive and in business, although still pretty young (another question I want to shake out of some authors is why having a character older than 21 is taboo). As you should be able to tell immediately, the plot gets started by the character's "mentor"/"father" figure who gives him jobs handing over a last minute change over from another assassin for a job that must be done in two days.

The character is very clear that he doesn't do business that way, but manages to get talked into it, which of course turns into a trap and yada yada yada. Then, once the die is cast and said mentor is knocked off and the character has no reason to stay around, what does he do? Swear revenge. Hardened killer, only friend dead, character even admits death was long time overdue and surprised it hadn't happened long ago, and plenty of cash to setup shop elsewhere or get out of rapid escalating situation that has nothing to do with him. There is even another character pointing out all of this multiple times and begging for him to go away and make a new life elsewhere. Nope, ain't happening, he's staying around in a rapidly escalating warzone of politics and death.

Now on the one hand I recognize that some people actually like those kind of plot elements (both 1 and 2). Also sometimes you need a solid induced plot hole (#2) to keep the plot moving or because the quirks are small enough that it's relatively harmless/meaningless. But they're so common these days it's very difficult to find stories without them. A few weeks ago I found myself praising Ryk Brown's Frontier Saga books not for any of its legitimate good qualities, but simple because after 9 short books the only direct romance was an early encounter between the male hero and one of the female protagonists which resulted in a normal, perfectly average, one night stand with some uncomfortable situations afterwards when it turns out they were serving on the same ship that dissolved in a perfectly normal friendship. I ended up devouring the series whole as quickly as possible because after a long string to reading books with the love at first sight style characters (and this was after I'd just finished reading Kingkiller Chronicles), it came as close to blowing my mind as I've ever experienced in a book over something so small.

Occasionally I can find discussions on the subjects embedded in book reviews or just general blog style posts but I've always wanted to find someone who asked an author directly why they do this. Lazy writing, they don't know any better, there is a majority market that proves it's what the public at large wants, or maybe it's just insignificant to put the effort into romance and too much background justification of character decisions? I'd be happy with any direct answer I could get out of someone who has written at least a couple books with those problems blatantly dragging it down, just to finally satisfy my curiosity.

message 2: by Michele (new)

Michele | 1154 comments Well, if there is going to be romance, then the two examples you used are the...not sure how to put it - they don't take anything away from the main plotline of the story. Boom, they're in love or they work together for most of the book and then realize how well they work together. Either way, there's no distracting first dates, boring telephone conversations, agonizing over what to wear, yadda yadda all the crap that really happens when two people get together. Who wants to read a realistic romance?

A relationship is also a good way to show different aspects of character personality.

Depends on the type of story of course, but unless your hero/heroine is a depressed/angry/tortured loner-type some kind of hookup seems reasonable.

As for the other, completely out of character actions are annoying, but most aren't really so bad. Per your example - the guy had one real friend/mentor who got killed and so he goes for revenge. Believable to me. And there would be no story if he just ran away. And wouldn't you lose respect if he did just pack up, cry a few tears, and restart his life somewhere else? He's an assassin right? Hunting down the killer of his mentor sounds right up his alley.

I don't know, I'd have to read the story to see how unbelievable it worked out to be.

What I don't like is if a character is established as a certain type and then for purely plotline purposes does a 180° - like someone is supposed to be super smartypants and then doesn't notice some glaringly obvious clue.

The worst thing is when a character is trying to say something really important, but no one will listen or they keep getting interrupted/cut off because IRL they would be shouting, "The damn house is on fire!" or whatever.

message 3: by Mykander (new)

Mykander | 19 comments Michele wrote: "Well, if there is going to be romance, then the two examples you used are the...not sure how to put it - they don't take anything away from the main plotline of the story. Boom, they're in love or ..."

It rarely ever actual works out like that in a story with romance. Keeping with the Sprunk theme the hero kidnaps the heroine at their first meeting. During the course of the couple paragraphs covering the escape, the hero notices her lithe form and the way her breasts push against his shoulder. In the middle of an escape just after killing several people, being framed, and kidnapping her "because it felt like it was something he had to do" out of nowhere.

Then, when the heroine wakes up the next morning and they actually exchange words beyond her trying to scream for help, the opening line starts with the hero internally forcing himself to stay focused on getting answers from her because she's so beautiful he can barely concentrate. How the in the ever loving hell does someone sit down and actually write that? It might just be me, but the core of my problem is it's physically impossible for me to read/listen to that and not cringe, and I don't get how someone can think it is a normal interaction, let alone decent writing. That same situation (him reminding himself that stuff needs done because he's too focused on staring at her) happens a few more times over the course of the next few days.

As for the actions, your doing the same thing I assume the average author does, make shit up in their head. I don't mean in as an insult or in some mean spirited way, you're working off my limited description and I can see where you think it's justified from my description, but it's really not in the book. Like the whole mentor connection isn't actually a mentor, it was the simplest analogue for the basic plot line in a few words, the reality is the guy was a psuedo-friend who gave jobs to contract killers and their connection was just over six years as the guy who gave the hero a chance to start the assassin profession.

Either way, it boils down the same problem, of I don't get how someone can sit down and actually write some of these words. Typos, grammatical errors, sentence flow problems, and so on I can all handle. I'm not perfect, and while I expect an author/editor team to be better than I am, it makes sense as to how it happens. The stuff I've tried to point out here? It causes hard stops in my reading of a book, like the author of a book saying the Earth's sky is red. Probably pointless to the story (in a fiction book), but it's just nonsensical and impossible to compute how someone can write that down.

message 4: by Serendi (new)

Serendi | 846 comments Because it's fun.

Sometimes I like realistic, sometimes I like gonzo over-the-top. And I think if I were writing it I'd much rather write gonzo over-the-top. Giggling every chance I got.

message 5: by Michele (new)

Michele | 1154 comments You're right - I make stuff up in my head to fit in the cracks. I thought this was something most readers did when they read fiction.

Since any book that spelled out every move and thought of every character would be the most boring story in existance I was under the impression that many authors allow us readers to exercise our imaginations. Especially since I'm not a male assassin, or even a male, so I have no idea how they think about stuff.

I do think, seeing your description above, that story sounds kind of ridiculous. It sounds like pulp churned out using every tired cliché out there. That's just poor writing, because an author should use his/her imagination to make such things seem fresh and believable.

Oh, and I have a guy friend who, when I wear a shirt showing cleavage, will stare and not hear a word I'm saying. So guys being stupid around boobs doesn't surprise me much haha.

message 6: by Hesper (new)

Hesper | 85 comments Michele wrote: "Who wants to read a realistic romance?"

I do. There is little that's appealing about the kinds of romance described so far. A romance is, first of all, a relationship, and I'd expect an author to treat it as such. You don't have to be a slave to minutiae to create a realistic picture of the connection between two people. The Etched City, for instance, uses a variation on the love at first sight theme for its romance subplot that is both fantastic and believable.

I find it to be lazy writing when there's nothing more to it than, wow, ladee is such beautiful. So breasts.

message 7: by Alan (last edited Nov 27, 2013 01:18PM) (new)

Alan | 534 comments Robert wrote: "The stuff I've tried to point out here? It causes hard stops in my reading of a book, like the author of a book saying the Earth's sky is red. Probably pointless to the story (in a fiction book), but it's just nonsensical and impossible to compute how someone can write that down. "

I think you've just identified the way for you to tell good writing from bad and the point when you should toss the book away. It's not that a book can't have love at first sight but if it's handled stupidly, don't give the author the benefit of the doubt - particularly if that's the thing that throws you out of the story. Instead look for the books that handle it better.

As a palate cleanser, I'd like to quote from one of my favorite depictions of the moment when two characters begin to fall in love (though most certainly not at first sight) - the bit from The Once and Future King where Lancelot starts to fall for Guenevere:

Very carefully and kindly, and with the best of intentions, she wound the creance up quite wrong. He took the wretched ball away from her with a gesture which was almost rough.
"That's no good" he said, and began to unwind her hopeful work with angry fingers. His eyebrows made a horrible scowl.
There was a moment in which everything stood still. Guenever stood, hurt in her heart. Lancelot, sensing her stillness, stood also. The hawk stopped baiting and the leaves did not rustle.
The young man knew, in this moment, that he had hurt a real person of his own age. He saw in her eyes that she thought he was hateful, and that he had surprised her badly. She had been giving kindness, and he had returned it with unkindness. But the main thing was that she was a real person. She was not a minx, not deceitful, not designing and heartless. She was pretty Jenny, who could think and feel.

Edited to Add - If you haven't read the book, my excerpting this may not do the scene justice because part of its power comes from TH White's choices in the earlier chapters.

message 8: by Ken (new)

Ken (kanthr) | 334 comments love at first sight is the most boring kind of romance writing.

deux ex machina is a plot whoops.

for me, if I see #1 or #2 in a book, it's negative marks.

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