August 5, 2010

Commandments for Writers Series: #2

Sol Stein's On Writing ends with Ten Commandments for Writers, and I'll be throwing them out to you for discussion over the next few weeks.
2 Thou shalt imbue thy heroes with faults and thy villains with charm, for it is the faults of the hero that bring forth his life, just as the charm of the villain is the honey with which he lures the innocent.

Katniss is wishy-washy, Elizabeth Bennett is hypocritical, Edmond Dantes is gullible, then obsessed with revenge, and Harry Potter is clueless.

Saruman is velvet-voiced, Will Elliot is smooth, Luke Castellan is heroic, and Oberon seductive.

As a writer, I find it more difficult to avoid perfection in my heroes, but when I let them fumble, show their anxieties, their hiccups, they are a joy to write and their triumphs are... triumphant. And the villains, well... the villains are just fun.

One of the more interesting heroes I've recently read is John Wayne Cleaver of Dan Well's I Am Not a Serial Killer. Wells has imbued his hero with cringe-inducing faults galore and yet we want him to succeed. We shudder at his realism. We cover our eyes and peek through our fingers, dreading and hoping and glancing at our darkened windows.

Are your heroes the embodiment of perfection, or are they made real through their shortcomings? Are your villains bad because they are villains, or are they villains because they are deceptively attractive?


Christauna Asay said...

Fascinating post. I %100 agree with your assessment of John Cleaver. A wonderfully complicated literary hero.

Going to have a chat with one of my villains now.

Krista said...

Thanks for following, Christauna! Hope the chat goes well.

M. Gray said...

Aw, I love that quote from Sol. Great assessment. I believe you that you can write your villains with charm and heroes with faults!!

melissa said...

I like to see my heroes have some faults. I don't like to see them perfect. When I see a strong hero or heroine that is trying their best but falls short once in a while then I can relate more to them.

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