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Topic of the week: compelling characters

  • Oct. 11th, 2007 at 2:14 AM
The first part of this week's questions has more to do with the fandom for which we fanfic... sort of.  The mid-week subtopic will be more about fanfic. 

We seem to be drawn to fandoms with very compelling characters.  They're often very deeply flawed, at least a tad quirky, and almost universally broken in some sort of way. 

1) Would you say that these conditions (flawed, quirky and broken) are prerequisites for the things you've found yourself being a super-fan of in the course of your life?

2)  Or is this just part of the human condition?  Are we all like this?

3) Whats the difference between "compelling" characters, and non-compelling characters, that we don't care as much about? Is there some kind of line of demarcation in the sand between flawed and broken characters that get our sympathy and those that do not?

Be nice, be respectful, be TALKATIVE!!


doyle_sb4 wrote:
Oct. 11th, 2007 09:12 am (UTC)
Is there some kind of line of demarcation in the sand between flawed and broken characters that get our sympathy and those that do not?

Yes, the ones that get sympathy tend to be male. See also: woobies. Look at the difference in Torchwood fandom reaction to Ianto and Gwen.
spastasmagoria wrote:
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:06 pm (UTC)
Oooooh thats a very interesting distinction. Tend to be male among female fans, or tend to be male in general? How much info do we have about male reaction to flawed, broken male characters?

Do you think the woobie factor involves the whole "Chicks dig bikers" thing, where we assume they're vulnerable behind a tough exterior, and we see them as broken, in an "I'll fix him!" kind of way?
doyle_sb4 wrote:
Oct. 11th, 2007 02:50 pm (UTC)
Dunno about male fans since I know of about two male fanfic writers in DW fandom and all the guys I knew in Buffy fandom either wrote mostly about the women or wrote epics that were the male equivalent of "Hermione got a makeover over the summer!", with Xander becoming a superpowered beefed-up cool soldier type who got lots of laydeez.

Do you think the woobie factor involves the whole "Chicks dig bikers" thing, where we assume they're vulnerable behind a tough exterior, and we see them as broken, in an "I'll fix him!" kind of way?

There's certainly an awful lot of ship fic where the bad boy with the tragic past who the writer believes could be good really if only the main characters would appreciate him like fandom does (Spike, Draco Malfoy, Lex Luthor...) finds eternal love with the central character of their particular fandom. Where the woobies are good guys to begin with - Ianto, Wes from Angel, Simon from Firefly - there can be a tendency to pile angst on them so they can cry a lot and be looked after by the main character/other half of their pairing (see the fairly regular complaints on fanficrants about how much Ianto cries in fic).

I'm trying to think of popular female 'broken' characters and can only really come up with River from Firefly and post-Doomsday Rose (she typed with gritted teeth, choosing the appropriate icon - I don't think she is broken, by any means, but she gets written as such a lot). And Gwen, by the last two episodes of Torchwood, but like I say, she gets a lot of vitriol thrown her way for that.

I'm not a big fan of uber-angst so I tend to favour characters who, while they might have sadness in their past (who doesn't, especially fictional characters?) aren't steeped in darkness and despair. Maybe this is why I tend to like the humans best in any supernatural/sci-fi fandoms I get involved in...
spastasmagoria wrote:
Oct. 11th, 2007 03:16 pm (UTC)
hmm... yeah... angsty female characters... I wonder if chicks dont have angst, we hide it better, or men just don't know how to write it/wouldn' think its fun to read/write.

I wouldn't say Vickie from Blood Ties is angsty, or even broken... she's just... got issues. you know... tough chick? heh.
dameruth wrote:
Oct. 11th, 2007 07:32 pm (UTC)
I think 1) and 2) can both be answered by saying that yeah, we're all messed up somehow, and that yeah we do tend to relate to characters who are like us in some way.

A bland, perfect Mary-Sue (or -Stu) character is no fun -- they don't come across as a real person, there's no dramatic tension in anything they do, and instead of admiration, they receive mockery.

Which kinda segues into 3); I think the most compelling characters are those with the "right" balance of flaws and good points. If you don't have enough of either, the character will not be interesting (IMNSHO).

Also, FWIW, characters with flaws give writers a lot of material to work with -- plots can hinge on a character's flaws, and his/her overcoming them (or not), or on other characters' reactions to those flaws. Witness, in Torchwood, the team's mutiny in the season finale, which was made possible by Jack's lousy leadership and people skills (he might be immortal and cool and sexy, but that boy has no idea how to manage a group of people -- at least not in S1).

Finally, on the tolerance of male vs. female angst, I do think a lot of people's ability to "take" it will depend somewhat on whether they fancy the character in question.

I've certainly seen that effect in real life. I knew a gal who was angsty, rather screwed-up, and also occasionally a little insensitive and grating; she's not a *bad* person, but she drove me up the wall. All the (straight) guys I knew, however, kept going on about what a wonderful, "deep" person she was, how kind and dear and thoughtful(her insensitivity was labelled as "disarmingly cute and honest") and I couldn't help thinking it was at least in part because she's very pretty and very sexy, and anything male in the room was really concentrating on *that* and not her actual personality.

Apply as needed to fandom, I think -- the ones that have a high % of female fans will probably tolerate male angst and flaws better.

FWIW, though, Gwen doesn't bother *me* -- I rather like the character. So it's not a hard-and-fast rule. Gwen's made some dumbass decisions, but so has every other character on Torchwood, most of them in ways worse than Gwen. Ianto (whom I also like) came a lot closer to causing major and unforgivable disasters, for example.
scarfman wrote:
Oct. 12th, 2007 02:27 am (UTC)
  1. I tend to gravitate rather toward the characters I identify with most. The oldest fanfiction on my website is a tale of M*A*S*H's Henry Blake and what happened to him after he died, not of the lead character of the sourcework. And the Doctor is my Mary Sue.
  2. Maybe there's no character everyone couldn't identify with if we gave him or her a chance.
  3. I dunno.



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