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  1. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Are Complex Characters Really that Entertaining?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Vacuum Eater, Jun 11, 2009.

    Every writing tutorial I've happened upon asserts that complex characters are intrinsically better than two-dimensional, flat characters. However, could it be that mainstream readers think otherwise?

    For example, a surprisingly high number of best-sellers have simplistic characters. Harry Potter is chock-full of two-dimensional characters (except for Snape, but he does not make the book in and of himself, and his main appeal seems to be to lovelorn teenage girls). I can't think of any characters in the Star Wars prequel trilogy and classic trilogy that are particularly complex, and the books based on the films are popular. So are the characters. Eragon is a popular series full of two-dimensional characters. Twilight has characters two-dimensional enough to be on par with children's stories like Mary Poppins.

    Perhaps most people have enough of gray areas in real life and don't want to be confronted with more when relaxing with a book? In other words, maybe having everything in black-and-white (the good guy and the bad guy) is more entertaining after all?

    Please comment.
     
  2. Etan Isar
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    Etan Isar Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you have not already, please ask to have this moved to the Character Development section of Writing Issues.
     
  3. Banzai
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    Banzai One-time Mod, but on the road to recovery Contributor

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    *moved*
     
  4. arron89
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    arron89 Banned

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    I think there's a time and place for stereotyped, flattened characters....but that place is never in the MC role...
     
  5. Dr. Doctor
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    Dr. Doctor Contributing Member

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    The examples you listed are all best sellers because most of the population at large doesn't care about anything literary, they just want something shallow and easy to digest.

    I see what you're saying about this, but I still think a complex character isn't that much of a chore to write - just give them a little bit of basic human morals and conflicts, no need to actually spend time going INTO these things in depth. Make it subtle, and your book will be that much more enjoyable.

    Another explanation is just that the books you listed are very plot-driven for the most part, thus not requiring a huge degree of character introspection to succeed at their goals.
     
  6. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    Want to know what else all of those books you mentioned have in common?

    Vicious marketing. Targeted character designs. And usually, a history of relative success that allows the next book to have an automatic customer base.

    The Star Wars series is based on big, sweeping plots- adding character depth would be difficult to show, given that screen time is already at a relative premium. The books are based on "Being part of the Star Wars Mythos" and are thus sold to people who really liked the movies, and few others- many of the Star Wars books are terrible. One book placed the number of Clones in the Clone Wars at a handful of billions. In an interstellar war. They aren't good books.

    Why did they sell? They already had a market.

    Eragon stars the ultimate God Mode Sue, a character who develops elf ears simply for the sake of developing elf ears, gains abilities as he needs to, and has the moral system of... well, he doesn't seem to actually have a moral system, as he kills a begging man one moment (I'm so badass) and cries over dead animals the next (look how tortured my soul is). His story is ripped from so many sources it's hard to tell which one is coming next, and is chock-full of bad poetry and purple prose. They aren't good books.

    Twilight... well, Twilight is the butt of so many jokes about sparkling vampires and magical vampire sperm that doesn't work except in the case of TWOO LURVE that putting down any more would be superfluous. They aren't good books.

    Aiming at these targets is impossible, because they require immense marketing, a predefined market (teenagers, star wars fans, people who know that the author was fifteen when he wrote it, and teenage girls that like the idea of TWOO LURVE and like vampires, respectively), and a hell of a lot of luck. They bring in a lot of money, sure, but are they good books? That's the key. Sure, get paid. But you're a writer because you want to write, not because the money's good.
     
  7. KP Williams
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    KP Williams Contributing Member

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    While I agree that several SW novels aren't very good, what's wrong with that estimate of clones (other than the fact that it's wrong)? I mean, like you said, it's an interstellar war. Plenty of room for troops.
     
  8. Gallowglass
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    Gallowglass Contributing Member Contributor

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    Why on earth would you want your characters to be as bland as those in Twilight? Those films and books you mentioned - both Harry Potter and Twilight are successful because of escapism and the appearances of the actors. I've asked people why they like Twilight (when they constantly say how good it is on forums) and they say they don't know...which gives away the answer, doesn't it? Peer pressure and sex appeal.

    If books with realistic characters had as much publicity, you'd get people going to them, instead. It's just hype.
     
  9. B-Gas
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    B-Gas Contributing Member

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    A handful of billion troops spread over thousands of planets and millions of starships- less people than the population of the planet Earth. It's an interstellar, pan-galactic war against innumerable droids, on worlds all over the cosmos, with troops moving from and to battle sites at all times. You'd need trillions of troops, at the very least.

    The number was way too low.
    </tangent>
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Complexity is not in hidden agendas. Complexity is in the adaptbility of the character, and how he or she grows in response to the challenges brought about by events.

    Viewed in that way, the major Harry Potter characters are not flat and two-dimensional at all. They make mistakes, they learn from them, and they grow.

    There may be some readers who only want to see the White Hats trounce the Black Hats, but most of the people I hang out with find the grey struggles far more stimulating and enjoyable. We WANT to know what it was that turned Anakin's love and sense of justice to enslavement to the Dark Side.
     
  11. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    As Dave has mentioned, the costume dramas invoked by the OP do not necessarily contain flat characters. While I agree that most of the aforementioned stories are not exactly literature which will stand the test of time, it is entertaining to given groups of intended audience.

    I would suggest you stretch your reading out and away from the western tradition. You may simply have come to that particular point where you've read enough of it that further reading brings on the feeling, "What, this again?!"

    Take yourself on a trip through, perhaps, the literary traditions of Asia, where protagonism and antagonism are much fuzzier concepts and not so comic book cliche as they are in our tradition.
     
  12. Rei
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    Rei Contributing Member Contributor

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    Your example of Asian lit is a great one. It got me thinking of a TV show called Gundam Wing. The Gundam series were very popular in their time. Every character is complex and individual. At times there seems to be enemies, but in the end, everyone discovers that everyone else had pretty much the same goal, just different ways of achieving it.

    Sometimes people have said that Tolkien's characters are flat or underdeveloped. One person said, in response to that, just because they don't show all of it, doesn't mean it isn't there.
     
  13. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    I don't want my characters to be as bland as those in Twilight. In fact, I work very hard to make sure each character that matters is well-rounded. My concern was: will this work be wasted in the end because most readers prefer shallow books and shallow characters after all?
     
  14. lynneandlynn
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    lynneandlynn Contributing Member

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    o_O Nothing you write is ever 'wasted.'

    Personally, I prefer characters that seem simple on the outside but once you delve in and really get to know them, they're subtly complex and intriguing. There are very few 'shallow' human beings, so why on earth would I want to read a book about people who have no interesting defining features?

    ~Lynn
     
  15. Acglaphotis
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    Acglaphotis Contributing Member

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    If you write shallow books and characters won't the readers that prefer complex stories and character also be driven away? It's a two way street.
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Not every character needs to be deep or complex to be interesting. Some characters exist only to advance the plot. These characters need not grow or display different aspects, even if they persist through much of the story. Yet they need not be boring. They can have unique appearance or mannerisms, or stand out in other ways.

    Nor does a main character have to be complex. Some stories can revolve around a character who is unchanged by events, and who needs not show any complexity. As Vacuum Eater suggested, the reader may be more attracted to the events of the story than to the characters. I personally prefer stories that shape the characters as well, but that doesn't erase the validity of the alternative.

    Also, you could have a story in which the immutability and inscrutability of the character is a significant story element. An example would be Mr. Roarke of the original Fantasy Island stories. He was the enigmatic host around whom damaged lives shattered or were remade. Also, many comedic farces revolve around a naive bull in a china shop who leaves a trail of destruction while emerging untouched: Maxwell Smart, Inspector Clousseau, or Mr. McGoo come to mind.

    So is complexity necessary? Not in all cases. It's just another of those endless choices writers have to make. However, you need to develop your writing so you can write both types of characters and still keep them fresh.
     
  17. Annûniel
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    Annûniel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I thought about this concept as well. Not necessarily about complex characters vs shallow characters, but the idea of writing something to have it wasted on readers because its not something that is "popular" enough to sell.

    My eventual answer was to write it how I wanted it because I should be writing it for myself not for my readers. I'm going to tell this story this way because it will reflect my best writing if I write it the way I want it. When it gets to the editing phase with a signed contract, I'm sure I'll have to compromise with my agent/editor because their goal is to make the book sell. But I still think its important for the author to have the mindset of keeping the book true to the original idea and style, if nothing else to combat the mindset of the agent/editor so the best product is produced.

    But that's just my 2 cents worth; I haven't actually been published yet so take my thoughts with a grain of salt. :redface:
     
  18. TragicJuliet
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    TragicJuliet Senior Member

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    I find it interesting that all the the books you mentioned (besides Eragon, I dislike Eragon. Easily forgotten.) do not really have 'bland' characters. Though maybe I am missing the interpretation of "complex" I figured complex ment that they don't always know what right or wrong is, that they have a past and they have conflicting thoughts.

    Obviously we know Star Wars is full of those complex characters, Look at Anakin or even his son Luke, the entire series is about what is wrong vs what is right. even in the end Anakin is dying in his sons arms and he's still conflicted on if what he did was right.

    Harry potter- Has anyone READ the 5th book? Harry is constantly at aims of what to do, he is a brat and doesn't understand what is going on- his friends and family often try and do whats best and end up ruining what more. Dumbledore himself was not all good- but had to go through a matter of mistakes to become who he was.

    Twilight- Edward alone is a very tormented cynical deeply disturbed creature. All of his family have their own stories as to why they act the way they do, and what happened to them, and their struggles with what is right and wrong, Rosalie would much rather steal the child and make it her own because it's "better" and Bella the whiney little girl is often conflicted if she should live a normal life with Jacob or live eternally with Edward.

    Mary Poppins- Even they aren't two dimensional if you truly look at the story and their conflicts. She herself struggles with leaving the children but know it's right because they no longer need her.

    I guess what i'm trying to say is, if you know your characters, know their past and their present, their likes and dislikes, I don't think they will come out two dimensional even if you tried.
     
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  19. Vacuum Eater
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    Vacuum Eater Senior Member

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    Okay, I see now that I was in the wrong.
     
  20. MelissaLynne
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    I like stories that have simple characters thrown in to situations that they wouldn't normally find themselves in. I think if you can get readers to relate to the characters, you'll succeed in getting their attention. However I also think that complex characters are quite a challange and if you can pull it off than your story would explode with excitement! Just be careful on how you write them though, don't have these complex characters so self-absorbed and whiney about their own lives constantly. One of the things I can't stand is how much the characters do this, some readers such as myself might be put off about it.
     
  21. TragicJuliet
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    TragicJuliet Senior Member

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    This is true, though sometimes I actually enjoy a MC or protagonist that has these major flaws that you just can't STAND them sometimes. Makes them more human to me.
    Some examples would be: Bella from Twilight, Buffy from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, aaanndd..other people I can't think of right now. Or! You could always make them TOO self righteous, like Aang from Avatar the Last airbender. He would not kill NO MATTER WHAT. and this proposed a major problem and wedge between him and his friends at the end of the series.
     
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  22. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    I get very bored with books or stories that don't give me anything to think about. I dislike Twilight because everything in it is obvious and very cliche (and I'm of the opinion that werewolves are many times better than vampires).

    The best advice I can give to you is that you read a few manga, particularly "D.Gray-man". If you need to observe complex characters in action, that manga is filled to the brim with complexity not only in its characters but in its plot too.
     
  23. TragicJuliet
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    TragicJuliet Senior Member

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    Oh man totally love mangas too, never read D.Gray-man though, my sister may have, she's super way addicted to mangas- more then me!


    Yes. werewolves are by far better
     
  24. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    What's good, and possibly bad thing, about one dimensional characters is that you begin to anticipate what their reactions to scenarios will be. You begin to love them because of that I think.

    Characters that leave you guessing can be very interesting. Almost like a little mystery inside the story.
     
  25. Kirvee
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    Kirvee Contributing Member

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    @Tragic: I'm totally recommending it to you then. You can read it online, or if you live in the US the first 13 volumes are on sale right now.

    @Carthonn: Maybe it's just me being a higher thinker, but I'm having a hard time seeing how anyone would love knowing how any character at any given time will react to a situation. Unless you somehow mean that most people have a latent enjoyment for things that are the same and easy to understand thus those people would like one-dimensional characters?
     

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