1. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    A strong male lead

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by archer88i, Nov 7, 2017.

    Earlier, I somehow got talking about this with a friend. I might have been complaining that media these days is not allowed to portray a strong male protagonist (but you'll never prove it). Anyway, they came back with a long list of characters that, for them, embodied the idea of a strong male character--none of which would have fit my description.

    That made me curious: in your estimation, what makes a strong male protagonist? Feel free to name examples.

    In the interest of reducing the potential for friction, I would ask that everyone refrain from criticizing others' thoughts on the subject. I promise not to tell you you're crazy provided that you don't do it to anyone else. :)

    Edit: I don't like to express my own opinion in threads like these, but it may be helpful for me to say that I am not referring to "well-written" characters, but rather to characters that are powerful or admirable. "Heroic" implies a moral judgment that would be going too far, I think, for my purposes, but I'm definitely not talking about the quality of the writing or characterization. For instance, Grima Wormtongue could be a well-written character, but he's a weak-ass piece of shit.
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
  2. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    I'm assuming that by "strong," you don't necessarily mean "heroic." Sometimes strong male leads are heroic and sometimes they're despicable. Here are some the come to mind. They vary by age, environment, etc.

    There are boys who make strong male leads: Huckleberry Finn, Mowgli, etc.

    There are young adults who do the same - often following the "chosen one" model: Luke Skywalker, for example. Or maybe almost any character played by Tom Cruise in the 1980s. Frederic Henry from Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms. Frodo Baggins.

    Full-grown men: Most of Hemingway's leads, like Robert Jordan in For Whom The Bell Tolls, Santiago in The Old Man and the Sea, professional hunter Robert Wilson in "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber", etc. Steinbeck's men from East of Eden or Of Mice and Men. Heck, Rick Blaine from Casablanca.

    Shakespeare's Macbeth or Hamlet. Dickens' Ebenezer Scrooge. Nabokov's Humbert Humbert from Lolita (among the really despicable).

    To me, I guess, a strong male protagonist is a strong protagonist, period. A man who makes his own decisions and lives by them. He owns his own morality. He makes mistakes but doesn't blame others for them - he shoulders their burden himself.

    Is that the kind of guy you're talking about?
     
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  3. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    From what I read of The Road (I intend to finish it, so spoilers will be met with a boot in the ass), the father is what I'd consider a strong male protagonist. He embodies love, protection, and strength, as a man should do. From what I read.* That could change *shrug*. But we should start with what it means to be "strong" in the context of a protagonist. My definition is probably different that yours. And if not yours, definitely one of the lot of ya. So I'll give you mine as a starting point. This is just off the top of my head, so it'll need some refining.

    Looking through my collection and thinking about it, I'd define a strong male lead as a man who embodies the ideal male traits. But, the criteria that define "ideal" would undoubtedly change depending on the context. But I think there's a core few. I'd posit them as: wisdom, strength (both physically and of-character), expression of love, and as figure of protection. I don't think all need to be present, but the more, the better.
     
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  4. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    In the more literal sense of the word strong, a character like John Rambo, even though he exemplies male ass-kickery and outward awesomeness, was a man that was inwardly weak, broken and alone. So a strong character, but also not a strong character at the same time. For a morally/emotionally strong character, I'd choose Homer Simpson. He's a man that has some serious genetic liabilities, personality issues, and had a miserable upbringing. In spite of that, though, he seriously loves his family, and generally does whatever he can to help them after he is made aware of and overcomes his inherent, natural selfishness. It's not like he's specifically bound to his family, either. It's shown in a few episodes that he has many talents and could easily survive without them, but love and duty keeps bringing him back to them even if at times he feels trapped by his family situation. With both of them there is plenty of internal conflict and they have motivations and traits that the audience can relate to. They also grow and change. With some, they undergo realizations and become better people because of it.
     
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  5. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I read it the same way I do 'strong female lead': well written character + gender. Doesn't have to be stereotypically masculine. Just make sense as a person.
     
  6. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    TBH, I don't understand what people mean by a "strong" character.

    Can someone explain? I've never gotten it.

    EDIT: The only character I automatically think of as "strong" is like... Furiosa from Mad Max. She's insanely badass, cunning, fearless, and determined, but also damaged and complicated.

    Or Wolverine. Wolverine is cool.
     
  7. izzybot

    izzybot Transhuman Autophage Contributor

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    I think just going off the replies so far you can tell people have some different perspective on it. I wouldn't hope for a definitive explanation.

    I kind of take 'strong character' to mean one who's well-written enough that the reader can tell what they're going to do before they do it. Who they are is so well-established and comes through so - well - strongly that you can feel as though you know them and can predict them as if they were a real person. They're probably the kind of character who's going to be remembered for a while because of how striking their portrayal is.

    I think of it that way, from a semi-mechanical writing standpoint, rather than thinking about what qualities are considered 'strong' for a person to have - like honesty or emotional fortitude or physical strength, etc. Obviously not the case for everyone.
     
  8. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    I don't like to express my own opinion in threads like these, but it may be helpful for me to say that I am not referring to "well-written" characters, but rather to characters that are powerful or admirable. "Heroic" implies a moral judgment that would be going too far, I think, for my purposes, but I'm definitely not talking about the quality of the writing or characterization. For instance, Grima Wormtongue could be a well-written character, but he's a weak-ass piece of shit.
     
  9. Laurus

    Laurus Disappointed Idealist Contributor

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    Not to be a complete ass (just a partial one), but you started the thread. Don't softball in your opinion.
     
  10. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    It's not "softballing." It's "refusing to throw at all."
     
  11. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    So--

    Who would you consider a strong hero?

    You mentioned earlier that you don't think "media these days is allowed to portray a strong male protagonist." But what would be an example from the past?
     
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  12. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I'm only halfway through season 2 of Stranger Things but Jim Hopper is absolutely my definition of a strong male protagonist.
     
  13. CoyoteKing

    CoyoteKing Good Boi Contributor

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    Yeah. Thinking about it more, I realized that I consider a "strong" protagonist a protagonist with a lot of emotional fortitude. People who are fierce, determined, and relentless... but also complex, understandable, and admirable.
     
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  14. minstrel

    minstrel Leader of the Insquirrelgency Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Here's a man described by a much better writer than me - Rudyard Kiping. It's his poem "If--" set to music, sung by Roger Whittaker. I know it's not exactly rock and roll, but here it is.
     
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  15. Shenanigator

    Shenanigator Has the Vocabulary of a Well-Educated Sailor. Contributor

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    The media displays what the public gives ratings to and supports at the box office, and what brings in ad revenue. Nothing more, nothing less. Very little is presented on major media and in movie theaters (and even on the radio) in the US that hasn't been focus grouped to death. Usually multiple times in the process.
     
  16. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm going to wander randomly between video and literature, and offer names, rather than traits:

    Atticus Finch/To Kill a Mockingbird
    George Bailey/It's A Wonderful Life
    Jethro Gibbs/NCIS
    The Scarecrow/The Wizard of Oz
    The White Knight/Alice in Wonderland
    Shepherd Book/Firefly
    Wash/Firefly

    A pause on Firefly. Nah, I don't think I'm including Mal. He's not sure what he believes in. Same for Simon.

    Elwood P. Dowd/Harvey (My brain suddenly tells me that he's the same character as The White Knight from Alice.)

    I'll probably be back to this post as I have other thoughts.

    Hicks/Aliens
    Kyle/Terminator (yes, yes, same actor as Hicks)
    Mark Thackeray ("Sir") /To Sir, With Love
     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
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  17. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

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    Mel Gibson's William Wallace in Braveheart: With the typical Scottish bravado, Wallace acts to back up his words. He stays the course in spite of his troubles, and doesn't back down in the face of danger.
    Mel Gibson's Benjamin Martin in The Patriot: A man who sticks to his principles, acts fairly, and cares deeply.
    Val Kilmer's Doc Holliday in Tombstone: Loyal to a fault, courageous, not one to start fights unless he has to, but certainly capable of finishing them.
    Josh Hartnett's Sgt. Eversmann in Black Hawk Down: Thrown into an unfamiliar role on the eve of a battle, he faces down his fear, accepts challenges, humbles himself, admits his faults, and listens to those wiser than himself.
    Tom Hanks' Captain Miller in Saving Private Ryan: Humble, brave, well-mannered, hardly perfect and well aware of it. He respects authority, and keeps his own counsel with the recognition there are greater things than himself.
    Antonio Banderas' Zorro in The Legend of Zorro: Though he starts out an unprincipled coward, he becomes a man worthy of the mantle he wears, fighting for something more important than himself.
    Jeff Goldblum's David Levinson in Independence Day: He could save his own hide, because he's "just a cable repairman," but he doesn't even question going to Washington to relay the information he has.
    Barney in The Expendables: Not a cinematic masterpiece, but Barney isn't out for himself. He's good at what he does, and applies that lethal skill with a conscience. Where Rambo was angry at the world and Rocky had something to prove, Barney just wants to help an oppressed nation get out from under a psychotic asshole. Even so, he's willing to maintain boundaries ("We don't hang pirates").
    Denzel Washington's Lt. Cmdr. Hunter in Crimson Tide: He's reserved, but not weak, and when it really counts, he shows true character in standing up to his superior in the interests of stopping nuclear war.
     
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  18. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    I don't know if I'd count George Bailey as a particularly strong character. I mean, it shows he was a strong person in the past, and that he can be again, but for the most of the film, he's kind of a useless lump. Even though the film is all about showing George how his actions affected everyone and that's what kind of offsets the tragedy looming over the town, he doesn't really have any autonomy or do anything proactive until the end of the film and even then he basically just gives a speech.
     
  19. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I'm looking at your post dubiously, since the whole movie is about what George Bailey did with his life. He did very good and useful things.

    You can argue that he wanted to do other, different, good and useful things, and you might have a point.

    But he ran a business that rebelled against the power structure in his town, a power structure that was firmly determined to destroy that business. That business helped many people in that town to have decent homes, and helped those people and their families to make their way in the world, despite, again, the power structure of that town wanting to keep those people from doing any of that.

    (What speech?)
     
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  20. archer88i

    archer88i Banned Contributor

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    Someone mentioned Blackhawk Down. If you recall Eric Bana's character (before he somehow turned into Dr. David Banner? ...Which I call seven kinds of bullshit...), Hoot, there's a scene where he embodies most of what I think about when I think of a strong, masculine role. The man operating the .50 BMG on the roof of Hoot's vehicle is hit and killed, at which point the occupants of the vehicle look stunned for a moment before the driver demands, "Get the .50 up! Someone get the .50 up!"

    Hoot responds with, "It's mine."

    Not, "I'll do it if no one else will." Not, "If you want me to." He says with certainty and finality that this duty belongs to him and no one else--even though he is not more responsible for the discharge of said duty than any other man present. I have admired that moment ever since I saw the movie for the first time. I have admired it so much that I think about it any time I'm waffling about whether or not to agree to something potentially annoying or unpleasant (although, thankfully, no one has ever been shooting at me at the time). I think that willingness to--without hesitation--go above and beyond the call of duty (and that may sound cheesy, but there's just no other way to say it) which nations across the world commemorate with their highest awards for valor, is one of the key components for me. This is, however, relates to another component that bothers me a little bit, because I feel that it runs counter to one of the more popular sentiments expressed above.

    Take a look at the characters listed here and count for yourself: how many of them survive to the end credits? How many of them get "happily ever after" and how many get a white cross, or a mass grave, or even just a poem like "In Flanders Fields" instead? A quick glance at the post just above mine as I write this suggests the survival rate is not much higher than 50%. As I mentioned, this, to me, suggests a second component which seems to me to mark a kind of gender boundary between the male and the female, contrary to what some have proposed here. Strong, male characters are characterized not simply by a willingness to accept responsibility for others, but by a willingness to sacrifice for them--up to and often including laying down their own lives.

    For me, as an American who likes a good, Hollywood ending without either Maximus, or Leonidas, or Captain John H. Miller dying just before the credits roll, there is a third component to the "strong, male character" that I lament. It's one you get primarily with the James Bonds (although not recently--at least not to the same degree) and the Han Solos, and maybe the Indiana Joneses, although I'm not sure that I should be naming two Harrison Ford characters in one paragraph... That component is winning.

    [​IMG]

    The important part there is winners go home. It seems to me that, all too often, one of the requirements of being a heroic badass is that you can never go home. As I reflect on this truth, I guess I have to admit that this is not really a new development; it's something inherent in Western culture. Something that goes all the way back to the Iliad, which is the story of a heroic badass who chooses to be remembered forever rather than to live long and prosper. Maybe that's what annoys the crap out of me as I look at movies like 300, where Leonidas leaves a grieving widow and a young son, and I compare them against movies like Guardians of the Galaxy, where a lovable dumbass saves the day and gets the girl.

     
    Last edited: Nov 7, 2017
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  21. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    This is reminding me of the story, one in a far more everyday context, that Ann Patchett keeps telling, about cockroaches and bookstores. The core quote is:

    Because I went to Catholic school for 12 years, the nuns used to always say, ‘If you can formulate the thought ‘whose job is this to take care of this,’ then the answer is always ‘it’s your job.’

    This was in the context of her concluding that even if she lost her shirt, it was her job to open a bookstore in Nashville after they lost their last one.
     
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  22. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's kind of my point. He had done good things, but as you said, he wanted to do other good things, and from the point we meet him as an active character, not as a flash back, he's mopey and whingy and pretty much just wants to kill himself and it takes a literal deus ex machina and pretty much the entirety of the film to get him to be all, 'you know what? This ain't cool. I'm going to do something about it.' He's basically a passenger in the film and Clarence was the one doing all of the work. I'm not saying that in the stories about his life he wasn't a strong character, but for the duration of the film he really didn't do much if you understand what I'm trying to say.

    (And I was referring to the 'the money is in your house, and bob's house' speech, though thinking on it, I'm not even 100% sure where that scene actually is in the movie.)
     
  23. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Ah, OK. I tend to regard the flashback as just a sort of wrapper for the first half of the story, so I give him story credit for the things that he does there.

    That speech is deep in the flashback, on the day that has both his wedding and the run on the bank.
     
  24. Sclavus

    Sclavus Active Member

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    That is the exact scene I thought of when I first thought of BHD. I think Hoot is a stronger character than Hartnett's, but I saw him as a secondary character, not a lead, hence my decision not to include Hoot on my list. Good call on a strong character, though.
     
  25. Shadowfax

    Shadowfax Contributor Contributor

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    I was going to say that!!

    Juror 8 in Twelve Angry Men.

    It's interesting that, on a writing forum, most of the examples (including my own) are from films rather than from books.
     

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