• Member Since 12th Aug, 2011
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AlicornPriest


"I will forge my own way, then, where I may not be accepted, but I will be myself. I will take what they called weakness and make it my strength." ~Rarity, "Black as Night"

More Blog Posts136

  • 92 weeks
    "A Place of Safety"

    I came up with this story idea a little while ago. I wrote out a lot of it, and then I figured, "You know what? This would be a really great way to close out the show. Put this out on the day of the finale, and you can sorta bookend everything."

    Then the finale happened, and 1) I totally forgot, and 2) the story wasn't done yet.

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    0 comments · 141 views
  • 109 weeks
    "Of Wake and Sleep Combine"

    The Nightmare had one thousand beasts…

    The days after defeating her were hell.

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    1 comments · 200 views
  • 111 weeks
    Writer's Workshop: Flawless Victory; or, Why Are You Booing Me? I'm Right

    Let's talk character flaws. I know I've already covered them a little bit in some of my previous posts, but I want to take a slightly different tack. What if we wanted to make a character that was perfect? They're always right, they're good at pretty much everything, they can effortlessly conquer every challenge put in front of them? Could we still make a story that's interesting with this kind

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    0 comments · 154 views
  • 122 weeks
    Writer's Workshop: The Allegory Axioms

    Let's get everyone on the same footing here: there's no such thing as "fiction," really. Or rather, it's impossible to write anything that's completely fictional. Stories always link back to reality, one way or another. This is what I call the "Prime Allegory Axiom." No matter what you write, it's always going to be a reflection of something. With that in mind, we can talk about

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    1 comments · 196 views
  • 126 weeks
    The Tale of the Glorious Angel Food Cake

    Hi, everybody! I'd like to share with everyone this story I picked up from... somewhere. I'm sure I stole it from somewhere, but the origin is lost to time, now. Anywho, I've tried to tell this story dozens of times, and it never fails to... completely baffle everyone who's heard it. I, personally, think it's hilarious, but I don't think most people get it. It's sort of a Shaggy Dog Story, but

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    0 comments · 156 views
Jun
8th
2019

Writer's Workshop: Flawless Victory; or, Why Are You Booing Me? I'm Right · 12:44am Jun 8th, 2019

Let's talk character flaws. I know I've already covered them a little bit in some of my previous posts, but I want to take a slightly different tack. What if we wanted to make a character that was perfect? They're always right, they're good at pretty much everything, they can effortlessly conquer every challenge put in front of them? Could we still make a story that's interesting with this kind of character? Would that character still be engaging and relateable? Sure! The trick is that we have to hide our conflict in the gaps. Let me explain what I mean.


I watched this movie the other day that totally blew my socks off. It was one of Hayao Miyazaki's first: Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind. This is a fascinating post-apocalyptic story about humanity cornered on all sides by giant bugs, toxic spores, and a miasma of death. When one holdout country discovers an ancient superweapon that could either be their salvation or the total ruination of the Earth, Nausicaä must find a way to bring balance between nature and humanity, or all hope will be lost.

Now, Nausicaä is, in a word, amazing. She's a beautiful princess whom everyone loves, who's also an expert mechanic, a stunt pilot, and a combat master with a battle-rage to rival Achilles. And that's not even getting into her most important skill: a preternatural affinity for animals that gives her the capacity to talk down even the most aggressive murder-bug. Basically, she rarely ever fails at anything--and the one time she does fail, without spoiling too much, it actually gives her a critical piece of information she needs to save the day.

So how could you possibly create conflict in a story with a main character like that?! Well, here are some techniques to do it. First and perhaps most obviously, Nausicaä is only one girl. She's powerful, but she can only fight as well as one person. In the scene where she goes on a killing spree, they only stop her because they have an entire army, including a tank--while she could probably down a lot of them, they'd kill her eventually, and then where would her country be? Similarly, she can only be in one place at a time. If she wants to go somewhere else to help with diplomatic stuff, she has to abandon the valley, or vice versa. In a world with dozens of problems all vying for her attention, she can only tackle so many at a time, leaving the rest to degrade without her assistance. Much of the story's drama comes from Nausicaä showing up somewhere, only for the other characters to say, "Yeah, because you weren't here, we ended up having to do X," and her replying, "No! X will doom us all!"

This technique is easiest to do when you have a huge, sweeping world like the setting of Nausicaä. Simply forcing your characters to travel from place to place means they end up either between places or in the wrong place when all the bad stuff goes down. You can mitigate this by having multiple main characters working together (or a character with the ability to duplicate or otherwise instantiate in multiple places), but even then, they can only cover so much ground. Or to look at it from a different angle, different problems may need a certain amount of time, or happen simultaneously. You only get 24 hours in a day, and you need some of it for sleeping. Any time you spend on one problem, you end up not spending on another problem.

(I hear there was this show that did something really similar to this. There was like this big country, and all the characters were in different parts, and there was like a continent-spanning war. Think it wrapped up recently. I'm sure it'll come to me.)

On a similar front, sometimes a problem requires cooperation and teamwork. Again, Nausicaä is only one girl, and the problems facing her require everyone's help to overcome. She can be as right as Cassandra, but if she can't convince the rest of the world to listen to her and agree with her methods, she's as useful as... well, Cassandra. If she can't create a solution that will sustain itself through the ages, when people who aren't as amazing as she is are in charge, then all of her efforts will be as dust in the wind. Nausicaä may be a cheerful paragon who believes in the goodness of all humanity and all life on Earth, but not everyone is so optimistic. There are multiple scenes where she tells someone, "Look, your plan isn't going to work. It will do the exact opposite of what you think it will, and everyone will die, and it'll be your fault," and they respond, "Yeah, I don't have any reason to believe you and plenty of reasons to be suspicious. You could be trying to trick me, or you might be misled yourself. I'm confident this is the only way to protect myself and my people." And they're always wrong and she's always right, but that doesn't matter if she can't get the information to the right people and make them see the truth.

Last is to put a high cost on the character's actions. This is exemplified by one of the early scenes in Nausicaä. She's just helped an old friend of hers through a treacherous desert, and he reveals this baby fox-creature thing he saved. Unfortunately, it's feral, and it hisses and claws at anybody who comes near it. Nausicaä, being the animal-loving hippie that she is, offers to talk to it and see if she can calm it down. She says all sorts of soothing words, but it doesn't seem to be working. She reaches out her hand to pet it, and the fox bites down her finger, hard enough to draw blood. But Nausicaä doesn't react; she just keeps cooing and assuring the creature that it's okay. Finally, once it realizes she isn't a threat, it calms down. This is the other way Nausicaä's journey isn't just a constant cycle of curb-stomping everything that gets in her way. Everything comes with a price: if she wants to bring peace, she'll have to put herself in harm's way to get it. She ends up breathing in toxic gas, blowing up several vehicles, getting more animal bites and bullet holes in her than are probably healthy--basically she winds up on the verge of death by story's end. Audiences don't need a flawed character if they can get a perfect character who's getting the crap kicked into her by the universe.


...I think this came out as a Nausicaä-flavored retread of Seven With One Blow! Oops. Oh well. Nausicaä was awesome, so sue me for wanting to gush a little. Basically, what I'm trying to say is, Nausicaä may be cute and smart and powerful, but that's not enough. The world and its problems are bigger than one girl with a glider, even one as competent as Nausicaä. So long as she still tries, and fails, and suffers, audiences still empathize with her. (Or at least, I still empathize with her. Can't speak for everyone, of course.) So I don't think saying "a main character must have no flaws" is quite right. Maybe a better turn of phrase might be, "a main character must be insufficient." Be it James Bond or Sherlock Holmes, Ellen Ripley or Samus Aran, the engagement in their stories comes not from their flaws or weaknesses they have to overcome, but the struggles they go through and the prices they pay to reach success.

(Also, notice that these characters are almost always Steadfast Characters. Hint hint.)

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