Mittwoch, 2. Oktober 2013

Filthy coward!

So that plot popped up from nowhere and spoiled my work. I got more than enough stuff in the pipeline, and this plot wails for attention. Evil, evil plot.
Yet it is one that I like for a special reason: the protagonist is a coward. He's driven by fear. Oh, he actually decides what to do and he does his job, but he almost wets his breeches when certain things happen. Like, being condemned to die as a king's killer. Ask your favorite 'Pedia what happened to William Wallace or Robert François Damiens on how kingkillers end up; I mean, I understand totally why this character wets his breeches. And for once, I'm almost happy with a driven protagonist, for this one will be driven towards all of those nice evil writer's tools that will make you chew your fingernails while reading. (Should I ever find time to write, that is.)

Coward protagonists are awesome, 'cause there's at least a hint of coward in all of us. This is an interesting and relatively new twist to the usual way of creating immersion: make ambivalent people your heroes. Heroes who do hero stuff, but still have a great deficit somewhere. Among the usual tools to create immersion, there are some which are seldom used, and one of them is fear. A classical hero may choose to die in valor rather than let fear take over, but of course there's always a plot device that makes the story go on, no matter how stupid the decision of the hero is. A living person would likely give in at some point ... or, lacking a plot device, really die, so the story would be over too soon.

Please note that a coward is most likely not a whining sissy by the means of my earlier rant here. A protagonist who is driven by weaknesses needs, more than any other, to act at their limit. Otherwise it's whining sissy for them.

Ambivalent heroes are more akin to living people than their classical forefathers. They feature a good and a bad affect on immersion: the bad one is that the audience, by mainstream tradition, likes their point of view characters easy to grab, which means positive in every aspect that serves sympathy. Surely they have their darker twists, fears and wants and whatever, but these will obviously never be so strong that the character will succumb to them. They are an idealized version of the audience.

Ambivalent guys may succumb to their fears. This is the good effect, for it makes them more real, similar to the audience with all their strengths and - add drumroll here - weaknesses. Of course nobody wants to be reminded of their own weaknesses when getting immersed in a great story, but mirror neurons will work just as well, or even better than with idealized characters. We all know fear, anger, desperation, and we know what they may lead us to: pull the blanket over your face (forget it), kick the table (ouch), scream mindless and throw things around until your neighbor calls the police (no, I did neither). Or they lead to things worth a good story, which is what will happen to fictional characters.

As long as cravens don't become real sissies and gutless chickens, their audience will understand them. I say 'their' audience, for their darker features are usually what drives the villain, and I bet that a good deal of people will prefer to stick with the classical hero.
I could be evil now and call them sissies (err, now I did), as they don't want to be confronted with their own fears, with the question 'what if I were in that situation?' and most of all with the lingering possibility to a bad ending, as a happy end is less likely in such a story. Fortunately, this means one hell of suspense.

Please don't take the sissy part personally. We all have a tiny coward in our brains who needs to hide beneath a cushion and watch a classical-hero-movie from time to time. Yet this is why craven characters allow storytellers a different approach on immersion: reach this coward who hides in the depths of our brains, and make it the reason why we enjoy a great story from a new, exciting angle.

If you're no coward at all and absolutely sure about it, check if you're a robot.