Friday, 14 March 2014

Issues: How Many Is Too Many?

(This post brought to you by a Buffy marathon and a whole lotta eye rolling)

My love for Cordelia has only grown. Voice. Of. Reason.

Also, I suspect this post is very much a Your Mileage May Vary kind of deal, but I thought I'd ask anyway.

Characters need an issue or two.  It's what gives them depth and brings conflict into their story.  The question is when do the issues tip over into melodrama? Does one too many issues make a character unlikeable or unrelatable? We all have different tolerances for this kind of thing, and mine are probably lower than most (I AM SO COMPLETELY DEAD INSIDE), but there comes a point when you really need a character to either stand up and deal or for their issues to have very real consequences... like everyone abandoning them FOREVER UNTIL THEY STOP MOPING, ANGEL.

Buffy herself is a great example of using a few issues to add great depth to a character.  She does her fair share of moping and dumb decision making, but she usually gets her act together in the end.  She endures serious depression and hardship but always finds her way of coping.  It's a great show to watch for character development.  The characters might not get their happy endings, but they deal with it. 

Having a character drown in their problems is a story all on its own, but at what point does the trouble weighing on them become unrealistic? Or maybe it doesn't - your mileage may vary. Of course problems do lead to new problems, but when a character only ever goes from bad to worse, there's got to be something that keeps them going. 

How do you feel about it?

12 comments:

  1. Definitely a YMMV kind of thing. I'm happy to read the kind of trainwreck story where a character keeps getting stuff piled on them, becoming more and more broken over the story.
    I *prefer* when they still have the will to keep on fighting, but there's also a few stories (Evangelion comes to mind) where it's interesting to see the damage hit them harder. (Hello Despair Event Horizon, Break the Cutie, and Heroic BSOD!) There's something fun about watching a character make their own situation worse...

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    1. Whereas there's something in me that's more like "really? Come on now..." ^^; I am all about the standing up and dealing with.

      Yeah, I couldn't get into Evangelion. I'm more of a Fullmetal Alchemist girl, with characters who go through hell but they make it through.

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    2. FMA does completely beat Evangelion, it's true!

      It does strike me, though, that if FMA had been focused more on Roy it would have been a constant barrage of issue on top of issue on top of issue.

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    3. Yeah, Roy is big with the angst. Ed deals with it by screaming at it :P

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  2. A friend and I were actually just talking about this yesterday. He recently watched a movie about a woman who cheated on her hubby and then had all this bad stuff happen to her. My friend was annoyed at how "moral lesson" the movie was, how terrible things kept happening to the MC and it didn't feel natural, it was more like, "This is what you get for cheating! Everyone watching take note!"

    I think that's one of the lines for me. If it feels like an author/director/etc. is trying to force a lesson, the problems can feel very heavy-handed and unrealistic. But if they unfold naturally, you want to root for the characters.

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    1. Yes, using issues to teach a heavy handed moral lesson is exceedingly tiresome. Subtle is definitely less grating.

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  3. I don't have a problem with characters that are constantly dumped on -- life is sometimes brutal, but it has to be handled properly (like everything else in writing). My biggest pet-peeve is when such things are the result of a character's inability to make the right decision, especially when for the reader it's obvious that such a decision will make things go badly. As long as the troubles and reactions are realistic, let those characters suffer ;)

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    1. I do know what you mean. There's a limit to how dense a character can believably be before it just gets frustrating.

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  4. I think it really depends on the story. Like, the Starks have absolutely nothing going right for them, but that's just the world of Westeros, and they have plenty of other things to drive them. But having ALL THE ISSUES. ALL OF THEM. wouldn't necessarily work for another story that's different in tone - if it's done wrong it just comes across as melodramatic, especially if these issues are the only thing defining the character (I'm looking at you, Bella Swan).

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    1. There's definitely a way of hitting the right tone with a character's issues. It's a very fine balancing act.

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  5. This is a good question. I'm reading a book right now and I don't like the character. I'm not sure why, but I think I know now. She complains a lot about being in love and being trapped and hating everything, but she does absolutely nothing about it. Suck it up, buttercup. ;) I think books should be about a character solving those issues, not exploring them and complaining.

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    1. O_o Wow, yeah, deal with it, girl. Don't whinge about it. Dealing with it makes the story engaging.

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