Hero and Everyman

First of all, let me apologize to everyone who has posted a comment since Tuesday evening. Apparently Blogger’s “hiccup” yesterday caused it to lose all comments made on Wednesday and beyond. Grr. We had some interesting stuff going, too!

And now, on to the actual post:

Watching NCIS:LA (yes, I watch both NCIS and NCIS:LA; and no, it’s not just for the eye candy (although that doesn’t hurt)) this week, I was struck anew at the difference between the Hero and the Everyman, and how both are vital to tell a compelling story.

Ha! Bet you didn’t know one could  get such revelations from NCIS, did you?

In brevis, the Hero is someone we aspire to. He or she is the one we admire, the one who shows the most praise-worthy traits, the one who gives us an example and makes us yearn to be better.

The Everyman is someone we can relate to. He or she is the one we feel akin to, we understand, we wince in sympathy, and as he or she interacts with the Hero, we get a sense of how we would interact as well. The Everyman makes the story real and personal.

Hollywood, in general, seems to get this confused. They try to make the Hero and the Everyman the same character. This might work in a few cases, but usually just ends up leaving the audience with nothing and no one to aspire to. We, as a society, need True Heroes. Tortured heroes, after a while, get old.

Many high fantasies have the opposite problem. They have the Hero with no Everyman, which leaves the audience feeling disconnected. We as humans need someone to relate to, as well.

A good example of how this works well can be seen in the Chronicles of Narnia. In Peter, we have the Hero. One of the biggest gripes you will hear from fanfic writers is that Peter is impossible to write realistically, because he has no flaws. That’s not because he is a “Gary Stu,”but because he is a Hero. He’s the one everyone looks up to and want to be like.

The Everyman? Well, he goes by the unfortunate name of Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and when we first meet him, Lewis tells us he “almost deserved” his name. Poor Eustace is a nuisance, a pest, hates and is secretly jealous of his noble cousins, and even after he is changed still maintains his Everyman status. In The Silver Chair Trumpkin the Dwarf can’t even get his name right, first calling him “Useless,” and then wanting to know just how he is “Used to it.” When the Prince, Puddleglum, and Eustace fight the serpent, we are told that Eustace’s blow lands on the body and skitters off the scales without doing any good. He thoroughly enters into every adventure, but doesn’t have any special skill that makes him unique or special.

By The Last Battle he has grown, even to the point where he can fight alongside the King (another Hero), but he is still the Everyman, just doing his best with his limited abilities. It is Jill who has the special ability to move almost unseen through the woods, Jill who rescues Puzzle, Jill who is the lone archer during that last battle, where Eustace is the first one captured and thrown in the stable. Eustace is never made a king, unlike his cousins. He is never referred to as “lord,” as Digory is (and both Polly and Jill, it seems, become “Lady” without any difficulty in the matter). He is just Eustace throughout, growing into a loyal Friend of Narnia, and giving his all without ever having anything special to give.

(In case you can’t tell, Eustace is my absolute favorite character from the Narnia series.)

In NCIS:LA, which started this whole train of thought, Callen and Sam act as the Heroes (Sam as the True Hero; Callen gets to be the Tragic Hero). The rest of the team is heroic in its own way, too, and it isn’t until Deeks comes along from the LAPD that we get a more human character. Deeks is brave enough, and good at his job, but he isn’t exactly the super-dooper expert at anything like the rest. He even looks more ordinary: scruffy, regular build, etc. Through his interaction with the team, and how he slowly integrates with them and develops his own set of skills has been one of the reasons I keep watching the show. That, and it’s fun to watch things blow up.

There are, of course, a lot of ways you can play with The Hero and Everyman roles, to expand them a bit. Take Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as a classic example. There you have:

Aragorn – True Hero

Boromir – Guy who thinks he’s the hero, but weakly gives in to temptation.

Faramir – Guy who also thinks Boromir’s the hero (and he isn’t), but doesn’t give in to temptation, thus qualifying himself for the role of Lesser Hero.

Frodo – Everyman who grows into the Hero by the end. Those are also becoming more common (and one of my favorite characters to write), and are also important for humans – because we need to see that ordinary people can grow to do extraordinary things.

Sam – Everyman

Then, of course, you have Eowyn (I think Eomer comes under the Lesser Hero category), who plays a similar role to Edmund in the Chronicles of Narnia. They both start out wanting to be the True Hero, but by the end have accepted a subordinate role quite happily – Eowyn as a Healer and wife to the Steward, and Edmund as ruler equal to his sisters, and under his brother. Lucy and Susan, in CoN, have their own roles as well, of course, but those are slightly harder to define. Lucy is Inspiration, and Hero, and Joy, and Faith, and … well, she’s Lucy. Susan is more akin to Boromir (HEY – fanfic crossover with a Susan/Boromir pairing, anyone?), in that she starts out heroically but gives in to her weak points. Unlike Boromir, who dies for his transgressions, we are allowed to hope, at the end of the CoN, that Susan may yet repent and attain the role of Restored Hero.

To return to the initial idea of Hero and Everyman – I think it helps, as a writer, to define these roles. Not that your characters have to fit exactly into a mold, but in a world where anti-heroes are frighteningly popular, and the everyman, if he exists in the story at all, is either a joke or a cynic, I think it is important to remember why these types of characters are so enduring. As I said in the beginning: We need to have someone to aspire to, and we need someone to relate to. Those two desires are part of what makes us human, and it’s part of what most stories, I think, are trying to tap.

After all, there’s a reason why classic hero stories are classic. There’s a reason why NCIS and NCIS:LA are so incredibly popular.

It’s because they touch on the universal needs and desires we all share, to have a hero, and to try to grow into one ourselves, even though we are just ordinary people.

Are there other great examples of Hero and Everyman in literature or television/movies I missed? I know I only touched on a couple. Who is one of your favorite Hero characters, and one of your favorite Everyman characters? Do you think my understanding of why these characters are so important is accurate, or would you disagree? What are some other characters that are important to us as humans? And are you a fan of the NCIS shows, too?

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Dialogue Difficulties

I love writing dialogue.

I can write pages and pages of nothing but dialogue. Not even anything else interspersed between, just “…” he said. “…” she said. On and on, for miles. I took advantage of this with my first novel (which reads like a rip-off of every major fantasy novel ever written and therefore will never be seen in public): I wrote the first draft as though it were a play, just dialogue with occasional “stage cues.” For the second draft, I went through and added to the dialogue, filled in the pencil outline with colored ink, so to speak. It worked well enough for that story, because it was so unoriginal, but I’ve never been able to make it work since.

So now I strive very hard to add body language, scenery, scent, emotion, everything that one needs, in between the dialogue. Sometimes I still get carried away, though, and realize that I’ve completely ignored plot development for half a dozen pages while I let my characters have a marvelous meandering conversation. Which is lifelike, true, but most likely boring and frustrating for anyone but myself to read. Then I have to go back and prune it down, insert clues to the plot and/or character development into the dialogue so that it has a point.

Part of the difficulty for me is that it is through conversation we get to know people – how they think, how they feel, how they react in any situation. Since I write mostly character-driven stories, rather than strictly plot-driven, conversation seems the best way to show my characters, rather than just telling the audience what they are thinking, feeling, etc. However, it is the unspoken actions, as much as the spoken, that reveal a person, and that is where I struggle.

Compare:

“I don’t like being told what to do,” Maia said.
“I don’t particularly care whether you like it or not,” Aunt Amelia replied.
“You are being unreasonable,” Maia said.
“That is irrelevant,” said Aunt Amelia.

Or:

Maia folded her arms across her chest and tried to appear as stern and immovable as her tiny aunt. “I don’t like being told what to do.”
“I don’t particularly care whether you like it or not.” Aunt Amelia was superbly indifferent to Maia’s attempts at intimidation.
Maia uncrossed her arms and stamped her foot, forgetful of the dignity of her nineteen years. “You are being completely unreasonable!”
“That,” said Aunt Amelia, a smirk lurking at the corner of her mouth despite her best efforts, “is irrelevant.”

Well? Which one shows the characters better? Then add some scenery at the end:

The bees blundered drunkenly from flower to flower, unaware of the battle of wills that was raging in the center of the garden. The heady scent from the early roses tickled Maia’s nose and increased her irritation with her aunt. How dare she ruin a beautiful June day like this, with the sun shining and the fluffy clouds darting playfully across the azure sky, with her unreasonable demands? It was enough to make even a saint lose her temper – and Maia was no saint. Nor did she have the wisdom of Athena, despite the marble statue looming over her shoulder that suggested otherwise.

It’s not perfect, and I know many other writers could do far better – but it’s getting there. Another half-dozen novels, and maybe it will come more easily to me!

Do you prefer to write dialogue or scene settings? What are some of your pitfalls you have to combat in your writing? Have you ever written a novel that was cookie-cutter imitation of whatever is popular in your particular genre? If it was fantasy, did it have a character who was half-elven? (Mine did!)

Influences: LM Montgomery

I don’t remember a time in my life when I wasn’t acquainted with Anne Shirley. I can’t quite remember now which came first, watching the movie or reading the book, but they certainly happened close together. Thankfully, the movie never ruined the book for me, and while these days I have to grit my teeth through parts of the sequel (and I refuse, utterly and completely, to ever watch the third), even knowing and loving the books as well as I do, I can still watch the movie without flinching.

This fellow might have something to do with that. Oh, Gilbert!

I’ve never been as big a fan of the Emily books – I adore Emily of New Moon, but the later two books of the trilogy get under my skin in parts. Frankly, Emily herself infuriates me the older she gets, as does Ilse.
However, as one who grew up in an extended family that can only properly be called a clan, with aunts and uncles and cousins galore, as well as second cousins and the like (my father is the oldest of eight; his father was also the oldest of eight, and his mother was one of five), my favorites out of all of LMM’s works would have to be the Story Girl books. And not just because my sister and I watched Road to Avonlea every week on CBC when we were growing up! The books are so different from the show.
For one thing, the books didn’t have him. Oh, Gus!

Ahem.
I love LMM’s writing style. I even love her “purple prose.” I’ve been writing LMM fanfiction since 2005. I started it as a bored and lonely newlywed, while Carl was at work and I needed something to distract me from my loud and inconsiderate neighbors, and the fact that I had no car or any way to get away during the day. Escaping to PEI, and a simpler time, more romantic way of life, an era I’ve always loved … well, it just might have saved my sanity. It certainly brought me some wonderful friends (hi, Adrienne and Cathy!) who shared my love for LMM and her works. 
Thanks to LMM, I learned how to explore different genres of writing besides just YA fantasy. I learned to play with different styles, to change my tone depending on what type of story I was writing. I learned that, as Mr Carpenter tells Emily, “pine woods are just as real as pigsties, and a darn sight more pleasant” – meaning, don’t let other people force you to write ugly things just because they are “realistic.” I learned how to write gentle romance (romance of any kind always having terrified me before).
I also developed a mad, passionate love affair with adjectives and rambling descriptions, which I am now desperately trying to combat. Not all influences are good!
I recently started my eleventh LMM fanfic (yes, for those of you who follow my LMM stories, that would be Gwen’s WWII story). I am not exactly working hard on it, having a few original projects that are taking most of my attention, but it is growing in my brain and a little bit on paper. No matter if I ever get published, or wherever my writing takes me, I suspect I will always have some LMM story brewing on the side.
It’s the least I can do to honor the woman who brought such magic to my childhood (and adulthood, if I’m honest).
Did you grow up reading the Anne books? Did you have a crush on Gilbert Blythe (or Gus Pike)? Is there a book that you have read for so long that you can’t remember a time when it wasn’t part of your life? Do you write or read fanfiction at all?