Monday, October 29, 2012

"Of some other metal than earth."

Leonato: "Well, niece, I hope to see you one day fitted with a husband."
Beatrice: "Not till God make man of some other metal than earth."
-Much Ado About Nothing

It seems that romance is as much a virus in the online world as it is in reality. In my everyday life people have been making matches of themselves at an alarming rate. I foresee many weddings in the next year or two... *feels dazed*... And the plague, as I said, has not limited itself to reality. It's crept onto the blogs beginning with Mirriam and quickly followed by Jenny with their respective posts on romance and How To Write It. I was not intending to follow suit. Not at all. But then I was looking through my copy of the screenplay of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing and came across Beatrice's vow and then I thought of something I've been meaning to write about and since it slightly aligns with the topic touched upon by Jenny and Mirriam, I'm giving it to you.

I bring up the topic of your Hero.

If there is one error Jane Austen and Elizabeth Gaskell made (perhaps) it is that their heroes are so....heroic. Let me rephrase that. Their heroes don't really have any obvious flaws. (Their female leads do....funny.) We women love Mr. Darcy and Mr. Knightly and Mr. Thornton and Roger Hamley. The only problems with those men are that two are misunderstood, one is a little critical, and one is a little blind. I love these fictional fellows as much as the next girl, but the transition from paper-to-reality is detrimental.

As humans we are all hopelessly flawed without Christ. There is no way a one of us would say that we don't have any faults.

Why, then, do we write characters who can boast near-perfection?

People say that fiction is a way to meet people where they are, take them along a fictional journey, and bring them out at the other end changed in some way. But how can you relate to a character and a journey that has nothing to do with your own life? Sure, a perfect man would be amazing, but I'm not a perfect woman so even if there were perfect men I wouldn't be the best help-meet to one of them.

One thing I've noticed is that Male Leads written by male authors always have plenty of faults...
Jean Valjean
Capt. Jack Aubrey
David Balfour
Bilbo Baggins
Eustace Clarence Scrubb
Ebeneezer Scrooge
All of these men are flawed, and yet we identify with them. Why is it that women are the only ones who will write perfect men into fiction? It's strange. If a man portrayed his fictional men as archangels, the feminists would throw back their heads and howl, "UNFAIR!" but we women will create our own Mr. Darcy's and Mr. Knightley's and defy anyone who would point out their unrealistic points. The men aren't the ones crazy about Pride and Prejudice. Obviously they don't find perfect men realistic and honest enough to bother reading about. We don't write perfect women characters, do we? No. Our women all have bad tempers, or resentful hearts, or scabby pasts, or hidden fears--things that make them real. It's because we're easy on ourselves and aren't trying to boast perfection because we know we don't measure up. Then why do we hold men to a different standard?

Though this post is somewhat rambling, it does have a main point: I'd caution all writers to make sure that your male "hero" in your story has his own flaws. You don't want a one-dimensional character. You don't want a perfect man that will drive away other men from reading the book.

Look to the men in your life. The men around you. Look to your brothers and fathers and pastors and neighbors. Your uncles and the guy down the street. Goodness--look to Taylor the Latte Boy if you must, but let's cast aside the Perfect-Man syndrome.

It's not going to help women to idealize Mr. Darcy's perfections, only to find they can't be satisfied with a single real man. It's an age-old problem that even Shakespeare addressed when he wrote Beatrice's refusal of marriage:

"Not till God make man of some other metal than earth."

Till she reaches Heaven, perhaps? Ah--but then it will be too late. Better to conform our ideas of fictional and earth-men to the mold we have here and now. Men made in the image of God, flawed as we all are, reaching upward to Christ a little more each day, denying their flesh and seeking Him.

After all, despite what Jane Austen might say, that's the true definition of heroism.


Elizabeth said...

This was really helpful! I like it!

Anonymous said...

Hey, I didn't know that you had read any of Patrick O'Brian's work. As to Taylor the Latte Boy, I have been trying to block that for a good while now. Why would I look to him? ;-)

Always Narnian said...

O, o..THANK YOU! Yes, you are so right in this post. They are too perfect sometimes... My favorite characters are usually badguys turned good- people who were once evil and have had a complete redemption. For instance, Edmund Pevensie! (And my main character in one of my books!) When they have faults, they end up seeming even more noble and heroic than the "perfect" ones! :)

Rachel Heffington said...

Wyatt. Let us just say that my knowledge of Patrick O'Brian is limited to that moment with you and me in Barnes and Noble with your very vehement approval of the way all 20 covers made one sea-battle scene when arranged on a shelf. I haven't *read* his books, but I'm familiar with Jack Aubrey as he appears in M&C and I figured he was fairly faithful to the book. Literary license, my good man. Literary license.

Marian said...

This is a great post. I've often seen a trend of authors writing the opposite gender character as Mary Sue Awesome, but not only is that unrealistic, it's boring. Frankly, no character should be portrayed as perfect--principled, yes, but not perfect.

I actually have a post in Draft on this topic, and I thought it was cool you mentioned Jack Aubrey, too. :)

Horse Lover said...

great post, Rachel! And HOW true! Thanks for the reminder; very helpful.

Maria Tatham said...

You may have overstated your case, at least as far as Jane Austen's male characters are concerned. Both Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley are flawed. Bingley is too easily influenced, and Darcy is proud. Both change over the course of the story.
That said, I believe you're right. We shouldn't create the perfect man - to do this may seem romantic, but it's false.
It was fun to revisit your blog!

Rachel Rossano said...

Thanks for this perspective. It got me thinking about the hero in my most recent novel. Irvaine was a bit of a hero, strong, smart, witty, charming (when inclined), loyal, brave, and all those other characteristics you find in romantic fiction. However he has flaws. He tends to be overly direct at times (military background), loyal to the point of aggravation, conflicted, a worrier, doesn't always tell the whole story (not purposefully misleading, he just didn't think it was important). He comes from a very unsavory background. Supported a man in overturning the government of a country (not necessarily a wise or admirable decision). He tends to demand a lot of his women (mother and wife). He makes mistakes and gets angry.

Sorry about the rambling. I am still trying to get my head out of his story.

Maybe part of the key to a great hero is complexity. A man who might seem, on the outside, like a Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly, but underneath is more like Bilbo Baggins or Jean Valjean. Or the reverse. Rough on the outside and gentle and caring on the inside. ;)

Jack said...

This is a good point and one I learned when I realized one of my characters never did anything wrong and while re-reading I thought, "He's annoying."

I think this is also the reason I don't really like to read Jane Austin. I know, time to throw tomatoes at me. But I don't really care for the characters. I read Pride and Prejudice and found Lizzy to be very over bearing to the point where she was annoying in her judgement of others. And Mr. Darcy, he baffled me. I couldn't tell if he disliked people or if he was just quiet and shy.

But this is something all writers need to keep in mind. Characters need flaws or they become annoying and unbelievable. None of us knows a perfect person, and to find one in fiction is just as unbelievable as meeting on in real life.
We feel no sympathy for such a character. We wonder what is wrong with them and why we just can't get ourselves to care about. But, as readers, we want characters we can relate to. To say, "Oh yes, I know how that feels!" And, "I do the same thing." and then to see how they grow and change makes us want to do the same.

And, there are my thoughts on it...

Anonymous said...

Apologies. I had no intention of calling you on the carpet. What you said was indeed true about Jack. As to the shelf organization reference and the battle scene, you of all people should know that that was simply my OCD kicking in. ;-)

Lilly said...

I found this post thoughtful and insightful. Though if you will allow me to disagree, I will say that I do think that Mr Darcy has faults other than being misunderstood. But I think your post is excellent and quite thought provoking. Bravo!

Rachel Heffington said...

To everyone who voiced concerns about my opinion of Mr. Darcy, believe me: I do love him. And I can see that he does have some faults. I suppose Jane Austen didn't feel the need to go into great detail over them. :) After's a romance.

Lilly said...

I heartily agreed with you though, about the need for characters to having flaws and vulnerabilities. I had just gotten through Elizabeth's yelling at him when he proposed and his smile (I think it was a smile...?) when she mentioned him breaking jane and bingley apart so I felt I had to say something. (Which in thinking back probably didn't at all. =(