3 Comments

Characters With Too Much Power

For the past many months I’ve worked on rewriting and extensively editing my manuscript until recently, as I neared the finishing point. Even though I’d discovered and repaired several contradictions in plot, greatly increased the character development, cut out several thousand words and added many, many more, something was still wrong. I could feel it as I worked, and this made me almost want to avoid the story.

It wasn’t until very recently, when visiting my friend Sam, (who’s given me valuable tips on writing) did I discover what it was. As frequently happens, the topic of books and stories came up. Sam shared with me a quote from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy:

“Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”

As we’d recently been talking about my own stories, it finally occurred to me what was wrong. I’d given my main characters too much power. The heroes and heroines were under-appreciated teens, but they had high intellect. They were too smart, too good at what they did. It made it too hard to connect with them, and the story didn’t have the punch it deserved.

So we talked some more and brainstormed, which is always a fun process. I highly recommend it if you write. Don’t be afraid to share with someone else who will have different takes and can inspire you. In a way, it was hard, deciding I needed to set aside the manuscript I’ve written and edited and rewritten and edited. More than that though, it is exciting to take a few of the characters out of that story and make them normal. Of course, this greatly affected several major plot points so much so that it effectively voids most of the first book, but the main theme and over-reaching plot are still there, and several of the main characters exist. The difference is they’re more human, and I know them a little better now. I am loving the art again.

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About Nathanael Scott

Nathanael Scott has been an enthusiastic reader of a variety of genres for as far back as he can remember, his favorite being science fiction. He uses writing to let loose his imagination in a way that glorifies God and benefits others. If you can’t get hold of him, he’s probably in outer space piloting a starfighter on a mission to save your life. He is the author of Though Storms May Rage, a sci-fi novel that is currently in revision.

3 comments on “Characters With Too Much Power

  1. Reblogged this on Tales of the Undying Singer and commented:
    [Here is] a quote from G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: “Oddities do not strike odd people. This is why ordinary people have a much more exciting time; while odd people are always complaining of the dullness of life. This is also why the new novels die so quickly, and why the old fairy tales endure forever. The old fairy tale makes the hero a normal human boy; it is his adventures that are startling; they startle him because he is normal. But in the modern psychological novel the hero is abnormal; the centre is not central. Hence the fiercest adventures fail to affect him adequately, and the book is monotonous. You can make a story out of a hero among dragons; but not out of a dragon among dragons. The fairy tale discusses what a sane man will do in a mad world. The sober realistic novel of today discusses what an essential lunatic will do in a dull world.”

  2. I’m going to chew the mental cud a long time on this one. I face this very challenge with my own main character. I’ve found special vulnerabilities to get around that challenge, but better still for me is to understand what such a character is truly for and use him accordingly. Like Gandalf in LOTR, like Christopher Robin in the Pooh Books (sic), such a character is best used as a mover or pivot of the action but not the focus of it. In LOTR the small do the necessary deeds while the minds of the great are elsewhere (in Gandalf’s words paraphrased). In the Pooh Books Christopher Robin, on a level a child can understand, is *in loco parentis* much as Gandalf often finds himself being to his charges, and also the moral standard against which the other characters are measured. So in both cases with my protagonist, who is *potentially* powerful indeed but who is limited by the ability to do *no more and no less* than a given situation *needs*.

    One Web comic author who does a splendid job in dealing with a powerful yet vulnerable and accessible character is J.D. Calderon of THE OSWALD CHRONICLES. He recognizes the problems the power of his character pose and so his stories often revolve around someone else’s problems entirely:

    http://www.theoswaldchronicles.com/

  3. John
    I really applaud your introspective discovery. I do agree that we can and often give someone or something more than it should or needs to have from the starting gate. I didn’t realize until you wrote this, that it occurred to me that I felt that with respect to some of your characters. It left me wondering what was next for them. It was like telling someone you had a surprise for them and then give so much information the surprise is no longer a surprise. Such a mature act for a good writer.
    Blessings to you
    Yisraela

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