Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Good Guys Who Aren't Boring

It was nice to see that I'm not alone in liking the good guys in stories. Sometimes it feels that way in Internet discussions, when you see people going on and on about how these horrible people really are just misunderstood and need to be loved, and meanwhile the people trying to do good things are either boring or terrible people because if they're trying to do good, that means they think they're good, and therefore that means they're smug and conceited and judgmental. And then there are the interviews with writers who talk about how boring nice characters are, and it's more interesting to write characters with an edge.

I do have to remind myself to call these characters "good guys," though that gets confusing because that can also mean "heroes," and not all heroes are what I consider good guys. I was calling them "nice guys," but it turns out that means something different on the Internet -- that's the guys who act nice to women in hopes that these women will respond to their romantic advances, and who then react in some pretty vile ways when the women don't respond to them, doing a lot of ranting about how women don't like nice guys.

Anyway, thinking about this, I was able to come up with a lot of examples of "good guys" who are interesting and generally seem to be liked by fans, so I'm inclined to think that writers who think nice characters are boring are just unimaginative or have issues of their own to work out.

In the other Friday summer SyFy show, Killjoys, Johnny is the "nice" one of the group, in contrast to the other two, who are edgier, damaged badasses. His primary character trait is that he's the one who actually cares. He wants to help people and do the right thing. But he seems to be popular with fans, and he's one of the more interesting characters. His soft heart gets him into trouble sometimes, and sometimes it gets him out of trouble when he's able to bond with someone who can help him. Being nice doesn't keep him from having a snarky sense of humor, and he's certainly not a saint who never does anything wrong, but the writing doesn't punish him for every slight misstep.

Pretty much most of the cast of most Star Trek shows has been made up of earnest nice people. Yeah, some of them were boring, but more because they were undeveloped than because they were nice. The attempts to add "bad boys" to the Trek universe have never really gone well. They've come across more as weak attempts at acting like bad boys -- like the rich suburban white kids who try to come across as ghetto gangsters. I think one of the weaknesses of the Trek reboot movies has been the attempt to rewrite Kirk as a bad boy with a heart of gold. They keep telling us what a rebel he is, but he still acts like your basic Trek good character.

I think John Crichton on Farscape was a classic good boy. He was a clean-cut astronaut with good intentions who got thrown into a terrible situation and had to cope with it, and sometimes he was in way over his head when his ideals clashed with the world around him. I think he worked because they were just writing a character rather than being conscious of him being "nice," so he was allowed to have flaws and a sense of humor. He also grew and changed as he adapted to his surroundings, so he didn't remain wide-eyed and naive for long, but I don't think he turned into anything I'd consider a "bad boy."

Really, if you're writing a situation that's dark and edgy, the nice character should be more interesting than the bad boy just because there's more contrast between the character and the situation. A morally grey bad boy in Crichton's situation wouldn't have been as interesting. Ditto with Johnny on Killjoys. That's why I generally know that I probably won't like a show or book if I see an interview with the writer in which the writer talks about how boring nice people are. That tells me that the writer has a massive imagination failure and probably isn't very good at creating interesting characters. That writer's edgy bad boys are probably going to be pretty boring, too. They'll just skate on snark disguised as characterization.

1 comment:

Chicory said...

I agree that a good guy in a bad situation creates a greater contrast, which provides more interest. I think one reason people get confused about only `bad boys' being interesting may be because some people have difficulties figuring out how to have a character arc if the person starts out good. The thing is, good guys aren't perfect and still have plenty of room for growth. They can still have tragic pasts (like your own cop hero in `A Fairy Tale') or blind spots. One of my favorite good guys is Dash from the `Minority Report' tv show. (Unfortunately canceled after one season.)His goal is to stop murders before they happen without letting anyone know he's a pre-cog and kidnapping him for his ability. It creates a wonderful tension because every time he tries to save lives, he's also putting himself, his twin brother, and everyone who helps him at risk. You still get the pull of difficult choices (is `the right thing' trying to help strangers when it puts your family and friends at risk?) but Dash is never a bad guy. (Well, he does push the line once when he's kidnapped, but as far as I was concerned, he never crossed it.)