The Sword and Laser discussion

Heroic characters and their flaws

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message 1: by Phillip (new)

Phillip Murrell | 288 comments I enjoy reading characters who behave like real people. That means even the most virtuous good guy has flaws. Just as even the worst dictator has at least once cheered up a sad child, a perfect nun must have crop dusted children at play. However, I've noticed over the past two decades or so that more and more the list of acceptable flaws is reduced. I'm not talking about anit-heroes or anti-villains. I'm not talking about the characters who are supposed to live in the gray (e.g. assassins, rogues, space pirates). I'm talking about the people you'd have a beer with.

The cynic in me sees the same couple flaws used ad nauseum. The protagonist can be a drunk. He/she can cheat on a romantic partner. He/she may use narcotics. That seems to be it. If you utter one racial/sexist/homophobic slur, you're out as a hero. If you casually lie, you don't stand for anything. If you steal, have an explosive temper that leads to hitting walls or throwing dishes, or hide as a coward who never overcomes the quality. There are many more things that are considered flaws for real people that sadly rarely materialize into books/movies/television.

I know many of you will easily disprove my assumption. I welcome this. Please send your SFF recommendations with heroic characters acting shady (besides the aforementioned drunks/cheats/addicts). I look forward to adding your lists to my TBR.

message 2: by John (Taloni) (new)

John (Taloni) Taloni (johntaloni) | 3917 comments For me the obvious one is Thomas Covenant. Leper in both body and mind. Only he can save the Land, but he isn't exactly heroic. He's never completely sure that he isn't hallucinating the entire experience, and does some truly awful acts along the way.

message 3: by Sky (last edited Jan 24, 2020 05:02PM) (new)

Sky Corbelli | 352 comments Wei Shi Lindon (coward) and Yerin (temper issues) from the Cradle series regularly lie, cheat, and steal to combat foes who are objectively stronger than them, because they understand that (to borrow from A Practical Guide to Evil) the only sin is defeat, and the only grace is victory.

In their own words...

"What did the Wei clan teach you about stealing from your enemies?"

"I'll bring my pack."

Now, the world of Cradle is pretty staunchly might makes right, so take that as you will.

message 4: by Trike (last edited Jan 24, 2020 08:34PM) (new)

Trike | 8315 comments This current trend of “Cancel Culture” and what I call the “Purity Police” is political correctness run amok. You can’t have a flawed protagonist without running the risk of suffering attacks from people, and the online mob mentality allows for swarming that can destroy lives.

It’s distressing when even people who should fucking well know better participate. Clarkesworld published a short story called “I Sexually Identify As An Attack Helicopter”, written by an apparently trans woman. Some people took it as an attack on trans people and went on a raging counterattack. Most of them didn’t read the story, they just went after the writer. One of those people was N.K. Jemisin.

N.K. Jemisin.


She even admitted on Twitter that she hadn’t read it, yet she piled on anyway. What the actual shit? A black woman who has written her share of “problematic” characters, who didn’t even bother to do the due diligence of actually reading the story? Mind-boggling.

The author asked Clarkesworld to take the story down because she was being attacked. Fortunately the Internet Archive preserves it: Is it transphobic? I don’t know. I haven’t read it. Even so, I’m in no position to judge, being a straight man.

But I certainly wouldn’t make a judgement call or attack someone without first seeing what the fuss is about. Shame on you, Jemisin, for breaking out the torches and pitchforks just because other people are.

message 5: by Allison (new)

Allison Hurd | 226 comments It is an interesting thing to read about readers believing that sometimes words don't matter haha

I believe there are whole essays--books, even!-- about why phrases that have caused hurt or are attempting to reappropriate for the hurt culture often just add to the hurt. I super recommend looking into that, if we're talking about making sure to perform due diligence before attacking ideas :)

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