Monday, October 29, 2012

Kill the Boring Characters



Liz and I were chatting the other day, and somehow we started talking about Tenchi. I don’t know if any of you have seen Tenchi, but I’m sorry if you have. I’m about to say not nice things about Tenchi. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with Tenchi—no wait, there is.

See Tenchi is an average boy with a mildly extraordinary gift: exotic women are infatuated with him. The problem is, he couldn’t seem to care less. He has magic wielding babes dancing around him trying to get his attention, and he seems to spend most of his time moping on the roof wondering why he was chosen for this destiny.

Earth to Tenchi: participate.

So Liz and I decided that Tenchi could be played by an inanimate object with the ability to speak, say a supped up speak and spell. That’s right, I think you could meaningfully replace Tenchi with a speak and spell and cause no problems to the plot of Tenchi.

DON’T DO THIS!

If you have a character who could be played equally well by an inanimate object, they aren’t pulling their weight. Think of your novel as an elite team of soldiers. If everyone can’t pull their own weight, they’re slowing you down. They could get you all killed. Okay, that’s a little dramatic, but if you have a Tenchi in your manuscript you’re endangering your chances for agents, publication, even a solid readership. I won’t claim that I watched all of Tenchi, but when they played Tenchi at the Anime club, half the people would get up and leave. I sat through more Tenchi than I should have, but I just couldn’t believe that anyone would have a character so… well… boring.

Tenchi is a Gary Stu.

If you find yourself stuck watching Tenchi (and you just might, there are people out there who dearly love Tenchi), I have a way for you to make it more fun to watch. Just pretend that Tenchi is a supped up, evil, Speak and Spell, and all the women around him are captured by the dark, magical lure of the nerdy toy. That is to say, the magic of it is twisting their minds. They are hallucinating Tenchi, and they are all caught in its thrall, not unlike the One Ring.

Sorry if I just ruined Tenchi for you.

15 comments:

  1. Ok, two things: 1.) Yes! A suped up Speak and Spell (we had one of those growing up); and 2.) there is an Anime Club????!!! That's amazing and I need one.

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    1. The last Anime Club I belonged to was in college. Back then (and yes, it's been a while) you couldn't just go to the local FYE and buy some anime. You had to know a guy who had a way to put something from the internet onto a VHS (because this was before DVD, yes, that old). You could buy super expensive anime from a comic book store. I'm sure they still have anime clubs, and I'd check with the library and nearby universities.

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  2. LOL! No, I don't watch Anime, but I hear you! Boring characters suck. Please, let them be active. Give them a will, a desire, an impending need--even side characters. Donald Maass advises combining boring characters into a single, multi-dimensional being as a method of strengthening a story. Food for thought, eh?

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    1. Oh, Anime is so much fun. Some of it is completely terrible, but some of it is fantastic story telling. And I've never thought of putting two boring characters together, I'll have to keep that one in mind.

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  3. I've never heard of Tenchi but I've seen plenty of these characters in movies and books. Usually it's the best friend in YA. Insert over talkative, bubbly speak and spell best friend here. LOL. It can be hard to make the secondary characters not distracting but still give them great personalities.

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    1. Oh man, the bubbly best friend! I've just read three where the best friend is full of bubbles and happy. In one of them, the bubbly best friend gets mauled to death. I think I might be sick in the head, because that one is definitely my favorite.

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  4. I know what I won't be watching tonight, lol. Great post about characters :)

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    1. Tenchi really is more fun when you imagine he's played by an evil speak and spell...

      But then again, I also have a full backstory for Special Agent Oso to explain why he is the person he is (it's how I coupe with crazy stories that make no sense).

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  5. I have a rule that if you can replace a character--any character--with a magic talking ficus, there's a problem.

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    1. OMG! The magic ficus rule! I love it. I'll definitely use this in the future.

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    2. I like the magical ficus idea. It could also pull double duty as a McGuffin if everyone was running around trying to get it. :D

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  6. I've never even heard of Tenchi, but you made me laugh! :) Sounds like a very good rule to follow!

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  7. Like Rachel, I've never heard of this, but you've made me glad I haven't!

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  8. eh, i never gave Tenchi much thought. I really like the Tenchi movie, where they go back in time to save his parents or something, but never gave the series much time

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  9. Haha. I was going to mirror what Jen said. In our collab we tried SO HARD to make sure each secondary character (and there are quite a lot. More than usual for a YA I think) was a fully developed person. Because you're right. If they're boring or underdeveloped, get rid of em' :)

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