SolZen here, back for another ran...I mean blog...this time we're going to be talking about 'Strong Characters'.
Now 'Strong Character' is a term that gets thrown out there a lot, even on this wiki, and it's clear to me that several people have their own different definitions, but this is my blog and my opinion so I'm going to call them wrong, and let me explain.
You've all heard the term 'strong female character', great, what's so special about it? It's special because in the past female characters were generally relegated to the role of damsels-in-distress, they were less 'characters' in an off themselve and more rewards for the hero. A fine example was Lois Lane, who in the older comics and the Max Flescher cartoons...was the dumbest broad on God's green Earth, that I ever did see. I mean this woman would get herself into the most insane situations for a story, that no sane person even a newsreporter would risk, but for her that was okay because Superman would save her. For the longest time, even though I was a Superman fan, I didn't like her, because her romance, her chemistry with Superman...didn't exist. They liked each other because the story said so, and if I have to go in-depth...She like him because he was a symbol of power. Before Superman, in some comics she dated Lex Luthor for a similar reason. We are talking about a person who would get herself in trouble because she felt she was untouchable because Superman was around. Yes, it's great to have faith in your hero, but if I may borrow from the Bible: "Thou shall not test the Lord thy God!"
People have called her a 'strong female character' in the past, why? She didn't listen to authority, did as she pleased, was a daredevil maverick, all of which 'amazing' for a female character at the time. That is not a 'strong character', that is someone who is rude, reckless and uses others for their own gain. Say what you will about the New 52, but I liked the fact that Superman and Lois were not immediately boyfriend-girlfriend, I expected their relationship to evolve and grow naturally. I saw why Superman liked Lois, because the woman would stand by her principles even if it meant risking a bullet to the head. Even though I didn't like that she would so calmly just reveal Clark's secret (this is before 'that' event), I liked that Clark felt like he couldn't trust her, because she stopped being a Macguffin and was a character, she had characterization that I could identify and not feel like I was mocking her. The thing is, all these flaws I mentioned are cool if that was the intended characterization they were going for, but we all know in our heart of hearts...it wasn't. Old Lois was not a character, she was a set piece, moved about to get the story going and a reward for Superman at the end of the adventure when he 'got his girl', she was a macguffin.
A 'strong' character is not someone who plays out a power fantasy. That's just a character with a lot of power. A strong character is not someone who only does as they please. That character is a brat. A 'strong character' is not someone who gets out of situations scott free. We call that a Mary-Sue and there are reasons it is not looked upon well.
To be a strong character, said character must have two main features.
- They are well characterized: They have a clear identity, their personality and even psyche, has on some level been illustrated, explored. The more their personality is expanded upon, the better. I won't talk about this, because there are SEVERAL other blogs that cover this subject.
- And this is the more important one to define a character as 'strong' (in my opinion at least) the character contributes to the story.
When people talk about a 'strong female character', they don't mean specifically a 'strong character', they mean a character who overcomes adversity and happens to be female, which aside from that last point, puts them in the same group of beings as heroes of old, who were generally(understatement of the day) men.
I have been praised for making several 'strong' female characters in Ultraman Orion, both human and Ultra and the truth is I wasn't trying to make 'strong' female characters. I was following the words of Josh Whedon, and I paraphrase: 'Don't try to make a good 'female' character, try to make a good character who happens to be a woman'.
The truth is...a 'strong' character is a good character, but trying to make everyone 'strong' is a good way to make a story pointless.
A strong character contributes to the story and the strongest is almost always your main character and/or your central antagonist.
To put it simply a strong character does stuff, things, things that drive the story forward. The hero fights the monster, the villains creates a kaiju and sends the monster to rampage, a side character figures out how to destroy the monster, another character gets the information to the hero, the day is saved.
The best way to know how weak/disposable a character is, is to ask yourself this question... If I took out that character, I didn't replace them with anyone else in that moment could their role still be fulfillled?"
If we took out our hero, the monster will rampage until it destroys everything. If we took out the villain, there would be no story worth telling . If we removed the monster (yes, even Kaiju can be considered characters, though not like people) same problem we have with the villain. The scientist, the side character who figures out how to stop the monster...if they didn't figure it out, someone else may have, but may have done it too late. The message courier, they could have been replaced with a phone call and their presence is mostly padding.
Now I hope you notice something, but if you don't, don't worry that's what I'm talking about next.
Each character contributed something to the story, that brough it from beginning to end. One person started the story, another allowed us to reach their conclusion, but not all of them were that important. Yet, they are needed...
Why you need Weak Characters
The answer to this question should be fairly obvious...not everyone can be a strong character. I have said 'being weak is not a sin, without the weak, the strong could not call themselves such". If every character was a 'strong' character, suspension of disbelief would be broken. Not everyone can be that important to a story and sadly, you may need people like Red Shirts, those who exist in your story just to get killed off and show how dangerous the threat is.
Weak characters are there to pad out the story, and drive it forward, and who knows, maybe even down the road you can give said character some screen tim. In Orion I had a character introduce in the episode with Alien Hush. He was that angry dad of one of the victims. I cannot and will not bother to remember his name. He later went on to be the pilot of Robo Orion.
However, there will always be small unimportant characters to fill out a service for the sake of the story (unless it's a short story).
I hope you all understand what I mean when I say Strong Character. I won't pretend to speak for everyone on the definition of the term, but the general definition I have extrapalated from the use I have seen amounts to the definition above.
I hope this blog helps when you're trying to create good characters, but also remember, not every 'good' character, has to be 'good', and not every 'strong' character has to be powerful.