Tag Archives: character development

Q&A: A Healthy Relationship Is Not Cliche

Is there any way for a reasonably smart girl to be involved with a dangerous rich boy? I really hate the trope of that kind of ‘healthy’ relationship, and I’m afraid to fall in that cliche. I apologize if this kind of ask doesn’t fit the blog’s specialty.

Well, the reasonably smart girl and the dangerous rich boy as presented usually isn’t healthy. It can be, but you’ve got to work at building the relationship and address the inherently lopsided power dynamics arising from the boy having all the resources and the girl having none.

As for reasonably intelligent girls making dumb choices? Intelligent young women don’t always make the smart choice. In fact, we all make stupid choices when we’re young. No one is going to be perfect 100% of the time. That isn’t a moral failing, that’s life. This is especially true when it comes to romance, and why its important to be forgiving regarding mistakes. Take into account what the mistake was, rather than the fact it happened. People make choices, sometimes they’re the wrong ones. Sometimes, they knew better and others they seemed right at the time. Mistakes are part of how we learn and grow. Sometimes, it takes sticking your hand into the fire before you learn not to do it anymore. This is especially true with intelligent young people. They may know the choice is bad, but they still think the outcome will be different for them. Sometimes, they’re right. More often, they’re terribly wrong.

We don’t always get to control who we’re attracted to, and sometimes we pursue them even when we know it isn’t a smart idea.  That’s human nature across the board. Doesn’t matter if the spark that started it is physical attraction, mental attraction, or emotional attraction. Smart girls and smart boys make dumb choices because the heart and libido aren’t driven by logic or reason, and sometimes the brain isn’t either! Ego gets in the way. Most teens don’t have the life experience to know the early warning signs of dangerous relationships. Or they lack the ability to tell a culturally pronounced “dangerous boy” who doesn’t fit the societal mold from one who actually is dangerous. There’s the appearance of bad and actually bad, and it can be difficult to tell the difference. These young people know what they’ve been told, but the experiences of another and your own are very different. Still, sometimes even when they consciously know and all the intelligent parts are telling them this is a terrible idea, their hormones are still in overdrive and off they go.

Don’t let anyone fool you, girls stumble around in the dark when it comes to romance just as much as the boys do and they make many of the same choices. Unless they luck out, girls don’t really get smart about relationships until they’re in their mid twenties  and by that point they’re women. Even then, intelligent women still make terrible choices when it comes to love.

The dangerous rich boy is one of those stunningly attractive stereotypes that young women have been conditioned to want even when they know they should know better. Or they’re in their late teens early twenties and a no strings attached summer relationship on a rich boy’s yacht could be the definition of a good time. (Remember, sometimes, the guy falls first in a no strings attached.  Girls get play too, often more. For all girls interested in this boy, there’s likely more than a few interested in the girl too. Rich boy probably has friends.)

It really depends on what ways this boy is dangerous and whether the risk he represents is worth it to our hypothetical female character. If it’s dangerous in the classic “I’ll break your heart” or “threat to virginity” way, then he may not be so bad and just is a player. (The virginity part is worth considering, because the idea of “purity” is still a fixture in most romantic tropes and it’ll ambush you in all its societally regressive nastiness if you’re not careful.) If it’s “I take out my anger issues on anyone who is close by and lash out, creating a codependent relationship where you feel responsible for me” or “threaten with physical violence” type, then that’s nowhere near a healthy relationship. If it’s the “I’ll get you addicted to designer drugs and alcohol” then that’s a little more serious. Lastly, if he’s the “I’m dating you so I can dump your drunk body in the ocean and watch you drown” type then chances are he’s murdered before and we’re in an I Know What You Did Last Summer scenario.

The romance genre is built on unhealthy relationships, unhealthy dynamics, power imbalance, and unattainable fantasies by choice. It’s wish fulfillment, a fantasy where the man society conditions us to want actually turns out to be the best choice. (Rather than an abusive, controlling trash fire.) That’s not all it has to be, but that’s what the genre often boils down to. The fantasy by itself isn’t bad, and if you want it that doesn’t make you bad either. The princess fantasy is incredibly appealing. In the classic sense, the dangerous rich boy is just another version of the Beast from Beauty & the Beast. He’s the princely hero here to be redeemed by the heroine’s good heart, then he carries her away from all her troubles to a life of safety and luxury. He is not, however, a Mr. Darcy. If you want a Darcy, you’re gonna have to work for your dinner.

The way to avoid cliche is to acknowledge the cliche, and remember that cliche is only a cliche in broad strokes. If you can get away from generalities and into people, then you escape its deathly grip.

Unhealthy relationships spawn for all sorts of reasons, and healthy ones do too. The major difference between a healthy and unhealthy relationship is that the healthy one is shared growth while the unhealthy one tries to force the other person to change. Two people, together, who mutually respect each other and share a partnership is a healthy relationship.

Love is both inherently selfish and incredibly selfless. The difference between them is desirous or possessive love for your own sake, when you seek the other person for the fulfillment of your own happiness. That’s often an imaginary love, driven by your idea of who the other person is or should be. The other is sacrificial love, where the object of affection’s needs take precedence. Often, when we’re young, we can’t tell the difference. Are you nice to the object of your interest in the hopes they’ll notice you? Or are you nice to them because you genuinely care about them? Sometimes, it’s hard to tell. When you reach a point where you realize you’d continue to do nice things for them because you want to and not for any potential outcome or relationship reward is the point where we’ve reached sacrificial love.

Unhealthy relationships are built on the bones of possessive love, on selfish love. It is not a give and take, it is often all one way. One gives and the other takes, one sacrifices their comfort in order to sustain the relationship and the other refuses to change. The emotional labor is entirely in one corner rather than a shared burden. Sacrifice for their partner revolves around whims, not needs. Demanded to fit the image their partner envisions for them or imagines them to be, rather than trying to understand them.

Behind Unhealthy Relationship Door Number One is the pedestal, and this is the one you’re most likely to fall prey to when writing romance. The pedestal is a fantasy construction and it is sexism, but it is also very attractive, extremely flattering, and safe. It tricks us into thinking we’re beautiful, treasured, and valued. The truth about the pedestal is its the realization of a societal construct where women have not only have no power over their lives but actively give their power up in pursuit of the fantasy. They are pretty objects who exist to be looked at and adored, much like a statue. This happens easily if you believe the pedestal is love, which it isn’t. The pedestal and the emotions it evokes often feel like they’re love, but true love is a relationship of equals. True love cannot exist when one person is set higher than the other and their value lies in objectification. (Men and women can both end up on the pedestal, but it is more common for women.)

The fantasy version of this trope is the prince or rich man who comes to carry the girl off. She is safeguarded, protected from the world, and her needs provided for. The best a young woman can hope for in a world where she cannot chart her own destiny. For all the perks that arrive with the pedestal, the trade off is power and freedom. It is easier to let others make the decisions for you, but the trade off is reduction into an object. The one who sets another on a pedestal doesn’t truly love them, they love the statue. Silent, voiceless, existing solely serve the whims of others and be admired. Safe, perhaps, but without control.

When you’ve got a male or female character talking about how beautiful someone is and never mentioning who they are and what they do, you’re halfway to the pedestal. Oh, those looks may be the first indicator of attraction (or not), but if the relationship never moves beyond it and if one character begins making all the decisions for the other then we’ll end up barrelling toward that pedestal.

Real love is mutual respect and partnership, it is a relationship of equals. The pair are a unit, keeping their own opinions but working together to become more than the sum of their parts. The relationship is built on a foundation of trust and good communication, rather than insecurity and jealousy.  They won’t be perfect. There may be drama, but the drama is built on real, external issues or internal issues and not the perception of wandering eyes. They work together to solve the problems with come up, and grow stronger as a result. They know they are loved. If a girl or boy starts flirting with their significant other, the answer is not going to be a jealous rage. They’re going to look at their SO, wryly raise their brow, and go, “really?”

Believe it or not, when someone tries to break up a solid, healthy relationship the member that’s being hit on goes home and tells their SO about it. They don’t hide it, or if they do they eventually fess up and the fact they didn’t say anything is the source of the drama rather than the person hitting on them. Trust is allowing another to make decisions for themselves, and decide their own feelings. Protecting someone from the truth, even with the best intentions, isn’t a love of equals. Jealousy is the result of insecurity. It is often an early warning sign of trust issues, healthy relationships work those kinks out through communication. Respect is based in honesty. It does take courage to be honest, to give up control. If you’ve got a character who can’t give up the idea they don’t control how their partner feels or is trying to control them, then the relationship isn’t healthy.

The healthy version of the “dangerous” rich boy and the smart girl is taking a trope card out of Pride and Prejudice to run with called, “Challenged to Change.” (Encouraged to Change is more appropriate, no one is making ultimatums.) This is the card where two people bring their personal flaws and foibles to the table and their experiences with each other open up the opportunities for them to grow. Their joint character development occurs as a direct result of their interactions or relationship, allowing them to see themselves, their surroundings, and their potential in new ways. The most groundbreaking conclusions occur as self-discovery, they realize their behavior needs to change. They then take the steps to do so, often independent of their romantic partner. Or, with them, not out of fear of losing them but because they want to be better. They learn to communicate, they listen, and they compromise.

They may fight, but the fighting is key to character development. They go away in a huff, they reflect, they come to new realizations, and ultimately they change their behavior (with no promise of reward). They see themselves through new eyes, with new perspectives, and understand why what they did was wrong. They apologize. They don’t change for the other person in order to please them.

Remember, Mr. Darcy’s most groundbreaking character development happens when he is absolutely certain that Elizabeth has rejected him. He doesn’t help her family in the final act out of any desire to win her over, in fact he doesn’t want her or anyone in her family to know. He helps them because he loves her, he sees the damage done by Wickham to the Bennet family, and recognizes his culpability in allowing this event to occur. He shoulders the burden and the expense, in part because he cares for Elizabeth, but mostly because Wickham is his responsibility. Elizabeth’s rejection of him caused a realization of his behavior (which according to social traditions of Victorian England should not have happened), and encouraged him to change as a result. He didn’t just change toward her or her family, his behavior changed toward everyone. He got mad, yes, but he realized she was right. Upon reflection, she realized he was right about her family too.

It doesn’t need to be as drastic as Pride and Prejudice or start in dislike, the part where they encourage each other to change, act as catalysts to character growth, and pursue their dreams is what’s most important. The balancing of power dynamics so they learn to approach one another as equals, with valuable opinions, and respect each other is key to developing a healthy relationship in your fiction. The process where they come to this realization as they fall in love is your story.

Don’t be frightened of cliches, every relationship can be a healthy relationship or an unhealthy one. The narrative is defined how you explore the romance between these two, whether you paint in specifics or broad strokes. Do you follow the formula? Or do you carve out your own unique path based on your characters’ personalities?

At this point, perhaps, Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice may seem cliche. However, what is so enduring about her novels is their challenge to Victorian social structure and defiance of those expectations. Her heroines are struggling against the realities of the world they live in, trying to decide their futures beyond just their future happiness. Marriage for love was a revolutionary idea in Victorian England, a privilege accorded only to the very rich and sometimes not even then. For Elizabeth to refuse marriage to someone like Mr. Collins is, in itself, revolutionary considering her social situation. Refusing Darcy on his first offer is mind blowing, marrying him would secure both her and her family’s future.  The idea she said no out of a desire to pursue her own happiness was, for her time and for a woman in her financial situation, revolutionary.

Similar problems exist now, today. They are different, in their way, but taking into account the social requirements, expectations, the family members, and friendships surrounding your characters will help you path the external challenges as well as the internal ones between them.

What is it about this boy that attracts this girl? Why is the relationship a stupid choice? (Is it?)

What is it about this girl that attracts this boy?

Why is he considered dangerous? And by whom? Who is he dangerous to? Her? Girls like her? How did he come by this reputation? What are the rumors surrounding him?

What are the social circumstances surrounding him? His relationship with his parents? His family? His friends? What responsibilities does he have? Or will be expected to have? What is the danger in pursuing a relationship with her? What is it about this relationship that might disrupt his future prospects or his family’s plans for him?

What are the social circumstances surrounding her? Her relationship with her parents? Her family? What responsibilities does she have? Or will be expected to have? What is the danger in pursuing a relationship with him? What about him might disrupt those future prospects?

These characters are going to have flaws, foibles, backgrounds, and possibly morals which will cause them to conflict. Working through those conflicts is part of their relationship developing.

Let me tell you, I hated Starke when I first met him. I did not like him at all. He was this really annoying guy in my American Film class, who always asked questions that distracted the whole lecture. After every question it took forever to get our professor back on point. Those segues were interesting but after they happened five times in a single class, it got super annoying. Sometimes, we didn’t even get to finish the whole lecture. Every time I heard his voice, I wanted to smack him. (Not the cute kind of ‘attracted to him’ either. No, it was “not this guy again.” I just wanted to hit him.) Then, one night, we got paired up in a group to talk about the film we just watched. Then, we started debating the film. (It was 8pm.) After class finished we went out to my car, continuing to talk about the film, and ended up standing by my car talking about it until 1am. After the first night, this became a routine. We started hanging out together more and more. We talked about all sorts of things, and I discovered he was a very interesting person to talk to. Eventually (a year later), we started dating. And that is one (small) part of the story behind why this blog exists.

The moral of this story is relationships start for all kinds of weird reasons and they’re not always convenient, which is why we roll with them instead of constantly trying to justify their existence. Anything can be the catalyst, what happens after is where the story is.

-Michi

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Q&A: Assholery is Apathy

Hello. I have a really bad question cause I’m a really bad writer but how do you make a character seem like an asshole or mean without making it sound too forced and/or fake? I’m a generally nice person (I guess) and have a difficult time writing characters with a mean personality type so any help would be greatly appreciated. (If youve answered this question before or a similar one I apologize and would appreciate if you could point me in the direction of that post)

You’re not a bad writer. Everyone starts someplace. Everyone works with material they’re not familiar with and learn from their experiences. A bad writer is someone who doesn’t even realize they need to ask the question, assumes they already know, and charges full steam ahead without any self-reflection. As a writer learning to think from the perspective of someone else, whose personalities we don’t share and often have difficulty understanding is a learned skill. You are not a negative moral judgement for having limited experience with a personality type, or not understanding that personality.

However, to write from the perspective of a personality you disagree with it is also necessary to reject morality and knee-jerk moral judgements. This is especially true with assholes.

The asshole don’t care.

When it comes to the feelings of others and how their actions are interpreted, the asshole is apathetic. They also don’t care about the consequences or the aftermath of what they say. They don’t see themselves as being mean, to be mean would require they care about someone else’s feelings and they don’t. They don’t give a flying crap about you, how you feel, how you interpret what they’re saying, or about your dog. Or, they’re in a situation where they think everyone is on the same page with the not caring.

How to sell an asshole in fiction and in real life is that oftentimes they are actually fairly accurate with what they say. Yes, what they said was mean, but it was on point. The best insults are the accurate insults, they get into our insecurities and dig their way past our defenses into the very core of who we are. That’s why they hurt. Mean people, successfully mean people as characters in fiction, are daggers and arrows with unerring accuracy that will strike into the very heart of you.

Make no mistake, this is not a state of being. The ability to accurately assess another person and strike without mercy in a way that is both witty and funny is a skill, and you should respect it as one.

Sometimes, assholery is a defense mechanism. Sometimes, it’s learned from parents. Sometimes, it’s the result of an emotionally abusive home. Sometimes, it comes from being bullied. Sometimes, it just evolves on its own. Sometimes, it’s a way of lashing out. Sometimes, it’s just a means of driving other people off. Like everything else, apathy, cruelty, cruel people, mean people, are all products of their environments.  This doesn’t let them off the hook for their actions. Knowing where someone came from and how they got to where they are doesn’t absolve them of the harm they do, but it does help in terms of understanding who the character is.

Your problem, right now, is you think people just are the way they are. This is the problem with ascribing morality to personalities, and looking from the perspective of who they are rather than what they do and why they did it. You’re also looking at social and cultural mores

You got a cruel kid on the playground, there’s a good chance they got it from somewhere or from someone. That, or they know they won’t have to deal with the consequences of what they just did.

However, if you care about either what will happen to you as a result of saying these things or about the other person’s feelings (even in your own head), this is going to be a very difficult character for you to write. You’re going to have to teach yourself to turn society’s judgements off, and find your inner asshole.

Aggressive Asshole – The aggressive asshole is aggressive.

Weaponized Asshole – This is the person who is normal 90% of the time, but when they turn it on they can go. The weaponized asshole uses their assholery as a legit weapon, the same way one might use their fists or blades. Their goal is to make the other person exit as fast as possible. Instead of just saying get out, they’re going to hurt you so you don’t want to be around them anymore. It can be surprising, sudden, and incredibly painful.

Passive Aggressive Asshole – The passive aggressive asshole strikes when you think you’re safe. They come at you sideways. They’re the dagger in the dark, and they’ll let that comment rip the moment you’ve dropped your defenses. In the hands of a master, you’ll find the blade buried in your back with your sense of self annihilated. Their cutting comments are not only highly accurate,  but you’re going to wonder if it happened. This is the assassination style of assholery.

The passive aggressive asshole doesn’t have the courage to be the aggressive asshole or the funny asshole because they know society will strike them hard for acting out. Often, they are white women (all the passive aggressive masters in my family are) and looking for ways to let their inner aggression out. This often someone who has been punished for saying “mean things” and is going to say them anyway, just in ways that can’t be caught.

Regarding women, it’s usually WASP women because societal rules regarding what white women can and can’t say before they’re no longer perceived as acceptable are much stricter than for other groups. When you’re looking for passive aggression, it’s going to come from people whose behavior is heavily moderated and controlled by external forces. The way assholishness asserts itself is heavily dependent on social mores and acceptability, thus ethnicity (more so than race or skin color), culture, and class must be taken into account.

Domineering Asshole – The domineering asshole is the asshole who knows they’re better than you and they’re going to tell you all about it. The worst case scenario with the domineering asshole is that they’re right, and they often are. That’s why they’re an asshole.

Honest Asshole – The honest asshole is someone who is brutally honest when it comes to their opinions. In fact, they don’t even see their opinions as opinions but rather as fact. They will tell you what they think, regardless of whether or not you want to know. And if it’s hurtful? Well, the truth hurts.

Funny Asshole – The funny asshole is very similar to the weaponized asshole and the honest asshole. They say mean and offensive things, yes, but they’re also funny.  And hey, you laughed. See: Denis Leary in all his stand up routines. (Caveat: it is very difficult to write or be the funny asshole. Most assholes who think they’re funny and take refuge in it are just assholes.)

50% Asshole – Can be other shades of asshole, but they’re only an asshole about fifty percent of the time.

Regular Asshole – This is the asshole who turns it on and turns it off, usually at will. They can be any of the other types, but the key to understanding them is they’re assholes to some people and not to others.  They understand what is and isn’t appropriate for social situations. The natural state asshole might be an asshole to their teacher but they’re an asshole to everyone, while the regular asshole is only an asshole to their classmates or only to their teacher or only with their friends when everyone’s an asshole together.

Natural State Asshole – This is the extremely unpleasant asshole, because they do not moderate their assholery and they cannot turn it off. They are an asshole to everyone, all the time. Think, Jack Nicholson in As Good As It Gets.

Beyond assholes, there are a lot of different kinds of mean people out there. Too many to really cover in a single post. I haven’t even covered all the shades of asshole, and there are many more than are here. That is the problem with asking about meanness in general, there are many, many, many shades and they’re all different types.

The two types are those who don’t care and those who want to hurt the other person. It is very important to not mistake one for the other. Sometimes, the asshole hides someone with a fragile self-esteem that’s beating others down to build themselves up. However, this is not always the case. This isn’t even usually the case. Lots of people are this way because they like it, or because they’re rewarded for it, or because the people they surround themselves with are like them. Most assholes are fully aware that what they’re saying hurts others, and they said it either because they wanted to or because they didn’t care if they did.

There is a certain enviable freedom in that, which is why they’re often so attractive as characters. Not because they can be redeemed, but in the ways they encourage others to break free of society’s rules or social etiquette.

Why do girls want bad boys? Because bad boys are far more likely to encourage them to unshackle themselves from society’s constraints and expected good behavior.

Engaging with your inner asshole means learning to act the way you want rather than how society expects. In some ways, it is an act of rebellion. Therefore, the shape the assholery takes and the act of rebellion itself is going to be different from culture to culture. In some, certain versions won’t be a rebellion at all even when they feel like they are. If you don’t understand the culture you’re working with, then understanding the role of the asshole is difficult.

The way you learn how to write “mean people” is by teaching yourself how to say what you want to say without fear of reprisal, even if it’s just in the quiet dark of your mind or on the page.

We all have our own inner mean streak, I have mine and you have yours. You’re caught up on applying moral judgements to yourself over certain kinds of behaviors, which is why you’re not used to exercising it. A mean streak that has not been given air and life, or even acknowledged is not going to be particularly sharp. If you sit there worrying about what others will think of you, then you can’t do it.

True cruelty is art, and built on observational skill. As is the kind that gets others to side with the asshole over the victim. It requires practice. If asshole is not a state you’ve come by naturally, then you’re going to have to learn how to fight through your own internal hangups and tap into those parts of yourself you haven’t let come out to play. Take note of characters in film who are cruel or assholes, and try to mimic them. This will be uncomfortable for you, either because you aren’t used to it or because you’ve been taught not to behave that way.

This starts with writing your character’s saying things you know are inappropriate, and then teaching them or yourself not to care when someone else responds badly. Like everything else, apathy is learned. It is a learning not to care. You can figure out later why they don’t, or what part of their past led them to learn how to cut themselves off, or why they said it. Begin though with saying the thing. Once you’ve uncovered your own particular brand of slumbering assholery, you can begin branching out into others.

The answer to pretending to be something you’re not is that it just takes practice. You learn to access those parts of yourself you intentionally avoid or suppress, then learn through experience and observation how to see through the eyes of others. You’re simulating experiences, and simulation requires experience. The more life experience you have, the more practice you have, and the more research you do, then the better you’re going to be at seeing from different points of view. That isn’t a flaw and it doesn’t make you a bad writer.  You’re just beginning at the beginning, and no one expects a beginner to know everything. Don’t judge yourself for ignorance, recognize ignorance as an opportunity to learn.

Allow yourself to make mistakes on the page, allow yourself to go to far, get in touch with that meanness without internally judging yourself. Think of all the mean things you would’ve said, might have said, wondered if you should have said but didn’t. Then, let them out.

The more you practice, the better you’ll get at writing likeable jerks versus unlikeable ones. You’ll learn how to balance them out, how to be unapologetic about it. Remember, pretending to be something you’re not doesn’t make you that person even when those feelings come from inside you.

TLDR: Just because your characters are shitty people doesn’t mean you are. So, practice makes perfect.

-Michi

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Q&A: Character Motivations

Do you have any advice on subtly guiding readers to villainize a character so that they dismiss the character’s legitimate concerns over another person’s trustworthiness? I am hoping the perceived personalities will help, but I don’t want to rely on them alone.

Well, you hit on the answer: Make the concerns legitimate.
Not just the concerns you want to discredit, but also the reasons your other
characters have to discount their observations.

When you’re writing it can be very easy to get tunnel vision
and view the world through the lens of your protagonist. Your audience will
gleefully follow that cue in turn. It’s part of why there are a lot of novels
with the protagonist acting in egregious ways, but fans will (and do) disregard
it, because the protagonist thinks that behavior’s fine.

This is how characters like Harry Potter function. The
character operates from a limited perspective of the world, makes snap judgments
based on their perspective, and as a result, devalues legitimate advice and
insights from people who know what they’re talking about. I’ll stress, there’s nothing wrong with a character having
this kind of an approach, so long as the author understands that this is a flaw.

There is nothing
wrong with having a character say, “yeah, but that’s just Steve, and we all
know what an idiot he is.” So long as you remember, as the author, that Steve
may have a point, and licking that light socket was probably not a great idea.

So, let’s step back for a second and start over: As the
author, you control the game board. That’s your job. You set up the characters,
the arena they operate in, and direct them. You know that the sky is going to
fall in six minutes, and that poking the toad over there is a spectacularly bad
idea. But, your characters don’t.

In a story told from the position of one character, you’re
presenting the narrative from a limited perspective. You need to understand the
entire situation, but your character doesn’t, and shouldn’t. They see and react
to the information they have access to.

Now, the hard part, staying within this weird little
metaphor, every other character in
your story is another piece on the board. Looking at the information they have,
and acting accordingly. Everyone has their own goals, and perspective. Just
like your character, their perspective is limited. They may have more
information. They may have less. What they know shapes their opinions and
perspectives.

AND. THEY. REMEMBER.

The simple answer is to go back and ask how does your
protagonist feel about the character. If they like them, and have had positive
experiences in the past, they’re more likely to accept that character’s
viewpoint. If that character has betrayed them in the past, or worked against
them, then they’ll discount the value of their advice.

Past actions are incredibly important factors if you’re
dealing with characters who’ve changed loyalties. It’s entirely plausible your
protagonist would hold a grudge against a former foe, who’s switched sides and
is working with them now. Conversely, if the protagonist has had a change of
heart, then they’re more likely to face distrust and opposition among their new
allies.

Okay, so, maybe someone does know that the sky is going to
fall if you poke that toad. Maybe they didn’t make that information clear
because, “NO! AREYOUOUTOFYOURGODDAMNMIND!?
DON
TDOTHAT; THEFUCKINGSKYWILLFALL!” Maybe they’ve
cried wolf before. Maybe your protagonist thinks poking the toad is a key to immortality
and Steve just wants that for himself.

You’re correct, personality does matter. It affects prejudices,
and how we weight information. Some of this is subconscious, but it works. Consider
which you find more credible, some Rasputin looking homeless dude raving
about the end of the world, or a composed academic? Personality and
presentations matter, particularly during first impressions. Even if the
Rasputin looking fellow comes back, shaved, with the crazy toned down, they’ll
still be weighed against their previous iteration, by characters who originally
met them in that state.

Confirmation bias is another relevant factor. This is the
drive to actively seek out information that supports your understanding of the
world while actively discounting information that contradicts it. If your
protagonist really wants to believe that toad will give them immortality, they
may very well ignore the advice of people they respect, and normally agree
with, when they’re told it’s really an amphibious button to initiate the end
times.

The really important thing to walk away with is the idea
that you don’t need to vilify other characters’ positions. If your character
has a legitimate reason not to follow it, then that’s all you need. Trust your
audience make their own decisions on who they should be listening to.

-Starke

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I’d like to ask, how do you know when fight/smut scenes are necessary? Or how to make them effective & not simply as fanservice or just for word count? Usually, I find myself skimming through fight scenes as a reader, bored. As a writer, I’m inclined to just ‘fade to black’ and imply stuff at the next chapters. I’m not really a fight/smut-scene writer, even though my characters know & need to fight. Thanks for keeping this blog. :D

A good fight scene (and a good smut scene for that matter) always works in the service of the narrative. It works toward the cohesive big picture.

From an entertainment standpoint, violence is boring.

You need your audience invested in the characters participating in the violence, in the actions and events leading up to the fight, in the aftermath and how this will effect the character’s overall goals.

In a narrative context, if you’re bored during a fight scene or a sex scene it’s because the build up to that moment failed. The scene itself may also have failed. However, your foundation is what makes your story sing.

Think of a story like building blocks. You’re playing Jenga with your reader on a homemade house, they’re slowly pulling out the pieces and you’re betting you built your blocks well enough to withstand scrutiny. You’ve got to keep them interested long enough to get to the end before the whole thing comes tumbling down.

A fight sequence which works in concert with it’s narrative is enjoyable, doesn’t overstay it’s welcome, and ultimately works to build up the story it’s telling. Fighting isn’t fighting, you see. Combat is a form of problem solving, the fight itself is an expression of the character’s individuality. Everything we’ve been learning about them, their goals, and their behaviors are being put in a pressure cooker and dialed up.

You should be learning about the character as the fight progresses, the fight working on multiple levels in concert with its narrative to get the story where it needs to go. Often, a first fight is like an establishing shot in film. You get a feel for who this character is when under pressure, who they are. Peril can be a great way to get the audience invested, but its up to the author to prove why they should.

Poor fight sequences don’t tell you anything. They’re there to establish the character as capable of fighting but don’t even do that because their concept of combat is generic.

The combatants aren’t individuals expressing themselves, the fight isn’t proving anything except fighting, it doesn’t have meaning except for its attempts to prove the narrative’s poor concept of badassery. This often happens with no regard for the setting’s rules, the aftermath consequences, what the character’s actions will effect in the long run.

It doesn’t mean anything and, while violence is shocking and terrifying in real life, in fiction violence has to mean more than just an exchange of blows.

How many times have you read a book where several mooks show up to get their ass kicked by the protagonist? They limp off at the end and while they’re often in a perfect position to be seen again due to their connections, we never do.

In even just a moderately competent narrative, those same mooks are characters. We’ll see them again in bit roles. They’ll play a role, either to help or hurt later as an aftermath consequence of the protagonist’s earlier actions. These are callback characters we can use to remind the audience of what happened previously in the narrative, and offer up some catharsis.

In a really well written scene, these mooks serve an important purpose when it comes to establishing the protagonist’s character in a quick snapshot. Like the moderately competent character, they come back later to the aid or the detriment of the protagonist. The mooks’ response actions are a direct result of their encounter with the character, often acting as an inciting incident. The protagonist suffers direct consequences as a result of their actions, whether its injury, loss, or the attention of the villain which causes them to lose something. In these fight scenes, you can see the story’s trajectory because it acts as another way to get to know the hero, the secondary characters, the tertiary characters, and whoever else is participating. It’s working on five different levels.

What you often see in a good fight sequence, whether it’s in a written medium or film, is the culmination of a great deal of hard work on the part of the author. A smut sequence is a reward, it’s a way to pay off on the reader’s investment in the relationship between these two characters and the narrative’s investment in them. It doesn’t matter if that’s hardcore sex, or a Victorian hand touch, or a knockout blow to the jaw, the end result is the same. It’s entertaining, satisfying, and even cathartic.

A poor sex scene is just dolls bumping bits. A poor fight scene is just dolls trading blows. Nothing occurs, nothing happens, there’s none of the underlying satisfaction or catharsis in the outcome. You don’t have any investment, no consequences, it overstays its welcome and tells you nothing about the characters.

You’ve no reason to care, so you don’t.

As a reader, you don’t owe a writer attention when reading their work. They’ve got to earn it. If they aren’t, then it may be that the story isn’t for you and that’s okay. Take into account your tastes,

It takes practice to choreograph a fun fight scene. Writing sex and violence is mostly about learning to find your limits (i.e. what you’re comfortable with writing), and overcoming embarrassment. Determine the difference between need and want.

Are you avoiding writing these scenes because you’re scared of being bad at them or because they just don’t interest you?

These are two very different issues, and it’s easy to hide from the first behind the second. Be honest with yourself. If it is fear, then don’t give into it. The easy solution if you’re afraid of being bad at something is to practice. Start looking critically at the media you consume, when you start to get bored during a fight scene or a sex scene, when you want to skip ahead, ask yourself, “why?”. Check out the sequences and stories where this doesn’t happen, and try to figure out the differences between the two.

When it comes to the mechanics of both violence and sex, the more you learn the better off you’ll be at writing it. The more you practice writing violence/sex/romance then the better you’ll be. Like with everything, it’ll probably be pretty terrible in the beginning but the more you practice, the better you get. Writing itself is a skill, but its also a lot of sub-skills built in underneath the surface. Being good at dialogue doesn’t mean you’ll be good at action, having a knack for great characterization doesn’t mean you’ll be good at writing setting description. Putting together great characters doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be good at worldbuilding.

Don’t be too hard on yourself.

All it takes to figure out whether or not the time to fight is right is by listening to your gut.

Remember, the best scenes are based in narrative cohesion and emotional investment. They’re a pay off in and of themselves for your audience, dessert after dinner. They aren’t the meat and potatoes. If you set out to just write a fight scene or write a smut scene then it’ll get gratuitous. Then the focus is on the fight or the sex itself, hangs entirely on their shoulders, and you’ve just upped the ante for how entertaining you need to be.

It’s not “how do I write a fight scene”, it’s “how did my characters get to this point and why are they fighting”. If you start from a character place, it gets easier. The same is true with romance. “How do my characters participate in a romance (sex or not)”.

Make it about the individuals, that’s when it really gets fun.

And, if you get too stuck, try writing fight scenes with characters who don’t know much about how to fight. Sometimes, it’s easier to get into it when you begin at the beginning. There’s a lot less pressure convincing an audience with a character who knows nothing than one at the top of their field.

There’s a lot less stress about “is this right?” when you’re trying to get a feel for the flow if you’re dealing with a character who doesn’t know jack shit. Fight scenes with characters who know nothing can also be really, really, really fun. They’re wild, improvisational frenzies where all you have is the character sorting through their alternative, non-fighting skills trying to figure out how to survive.

Believe it or not, this will help you because you don’t get to cheat with the idea that your character already knows what they’re doing when you don’t. It’ll help you tap into the character, seeing scenarios from their perspectives, and writing to that instead of “generic fight scene”. When you’re unsure, characters who know nothing about the subject matter they’re engaging in but still have to engage are great. They teach you how to write from the standpoint and perspective of the individual. You need those skills just as much when writing characters who are professionals or at the top of their field.

If you don’t think you can write an interesting fight sequence with a neophyte, then that might be a part of the problem. A character doesn’t need to be good at something to be entertaining. A smut sequence where everyone’s fumbling, knocking into each other, embarrassed, stuck in their clothing, cheesy, corny, and laughing can be just as fun (if not more so and more honest) than the ones that generally get envisioned.

For me, good is entertaining and the entertainment is based in humanity but you need to define “good” for yourself in your own writing. Be honest with yourself about your fears and you’ll find a way to bridge yourself to the kind of writing you want to be doing.

Freeing yourself of your own internalized preconceived notions will help a lot, and produce stories that are way more fun.

-Michi

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Hi there. the majority of stories I write are in first person which makes it even harder for me to write action or fight scenes. I’m always afraid of using words like “then I” or he/she” and so on. Like say if it’s just a fist fight. How could I make it interesting without being too repetitive?

First Person is the most interior of the different writing perspectives, which means you’re almost entirely inside out and can only rely on your character’s experiences. One aspect that you can do in First Person, which you can’t in Third is put the entire focus on the sensations the character experiences, their emotions, their fears, their feelings as they’re trying to sort through what is happening and what they’re going to do. You can make it extremely unique, personal, and immediate. Try focusing on intimacy in the sequence. Establish what exactly is going to happen in the fight, the setting, the characters, the surroundings, then put your narrative blinders on and see through your POV character’s eyes. Limit yourself only to that.

Here’s an example:

Ronald walked toward me, his head lifted. I watched as his chest puffed up, and he cast a glance over his shoulder to where his friends waited at the bar. He grinned and so did they. All of them grinning at me.

I took an automatic step backwards, bumping into the chair. I stumbled, but my hand found the table edge. Heart hammering in my ears, I raised my chin defiantly. I made a show of bumbling about, fingers scraping the table’s stick surface until I found the beer I’d ordered. Cal, the bartender hated me, so it arrived still sealed. Just over eighteen meant, I could totally drink around here. Still, Cal was old fashioned. When the law said eighteen, he still felt girls should drink only at twenty-one. Boys? Boys he let drink at sixteen. Fifteen if they were big. Bastard. Still, Cal hated guy on girl violence. Felt it was dishonorable, or something. If it came down to it, maybe I could make his old fashioned values work for me.

Slowly, tucking my bottle into the shadow of my left leg, I turned back to face the boys.

Ronald arrived in a few short steps, his body looming over me as he blocked out the light. At six foot four, he was way bigger than my five foot seven. I liked to think myself pretty big for a girl, but Ronald? Ronald blew all my confidence right out of the water.

“Hey, Ron,” I said. Out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw Cal straighten up off where he slumped on the bar.

“Lizbet,” Ronald spat. His fingers clenched into a meaty fist. “I want my money.”

“Well, now,” I grinned and tossed my head, “there’s a problem.”

He grabbed the chair, setting it in front of him. He leaned down on it, and the chair groaned beneath his weight. “You lost it.”

“I didn’t. I spent it.”

Ronald snorted. “You got cheek.”

“I try.” I glanced back to Cal, saw his hand sneaking under the bar for where he kept the twelve gauge. Just need Ron to take a swing. Then, I could make a run for it. I let my gaze slide, casually, back to Ronald’s buddies. They were getting up too. Or, worst case, I wouldn’t be fighting alone. My eyes went up to the ceiling, to the hundred black dots embedded in the wood. Or, at least, I could hope I wouldn’t get shot.

Ronald’s head dropped and he glared into my eyes. “I want what’s mine.”

“Well, I don’t have it.” My fingers clenched around the bottle’s neck. “Take it up with Cal.”

His jaw clenched, molars grinding to together. Cheek twitching, tensed all the way up to his ear.

Our noses came close. Super duper close, the closest we’d ever been. Best shot I’ll ever have, I thought. With nowhere to run, it probably be a good idea if I hit him first. Bottle rolled over in my hand. I whipped it up, swinging it right into the side of Ronald’s head.

Remember:

Active verbs are your friend.

“I ducked behind a table.” “My foot found the table and I kicked it over, dropping behind it in time to hear bullets impact the wall behind me.”

Describe body language.

Describe the actions that lead to other actions. “I raised my hand.” “My arms tightening, I rolled my fist back, and slammed it right into Gerald’s face.”

Try to picture it in your head rather than focusing just on fists, go with feet, with the upper body, lower body, and the environment. Please, use the environment.

Use the environment.

Your set pieces are your friends and key to making your action sequences feel unique. In first person, it’s tight corner view. We’re experiencing what the character feels about their environment. How is it helping or hindering them? What do they do about it?

It’s hard to have a fist fight in a bar when you’re worried about running into a table, tripping over another patron, or getting caught in the back with a chair.

Don’t be afraid to get silly.

You may go, “I don’t want to be embarrassed or my characters to be.” Well, tough. Violence is messy, muddy, dirty, and interspersed with the seriousness we also get the ridiculous which is part of human nature. Terror is offset by humor. You may end up with your protagonist fleeing down the hall or hiding under a bed, beating themselves up about their life choices while they run for their lives. So long as you don’t forget that they’re running for their lives, it’s fine.

Honestly.

Screw ups happen, they have consequences. No one is ever going to get it 100% perfect the whole time.

Never forget you’re on the clock.

One of the rules we put forth for writers new to fight scenes is to try to limit your sequences to eight moves or less. Fighting is like sprinting. It’s high energy output and it’ll leave you exhausted at the end of it. A lot of fights make it feel easy to go on forever, but most are fast and over quickly. Throw in more stumbling, rocking, and describe what it’s like getting hit.

You’ve only got a certain amount of time before these people can’t fight anymore. Limit yourself. Make the most of it. The more self-imposed limits you have then the more creative you’re going to get within them.

Define your options

Your characters’ personalities slamming together are usually the defining factor on how a fight is going to go down, so take a good look at who they are as people. Violence is primarily about problem solving. It is not always about the most successful means of solving a problem, but rather how a person has chosen to solve it. Is this person direct? Do they like to have fun and play with their defeated foes? Are they prone to “RUN AWAY!!!!!”? Who are they? How do they perceive violence and it’s uses?

In the example above, we see Lizbet trying to plan how she can get the bartender on her side in the fight against Ronald, even though she is very clearly the one at fault. Think about it, is your character the type who involves other people or who fights alone? How do they feel about the people/bystanders around them? What if those bystanders decided to join and not with them?

All fights are an exercise in character development, but First Person fights are personal. Not necessarily in the events themselves, but for the character whose eyes we see through.

-Michi

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Do you have any tips for not sounding biased when writing arguments between characters and such?

Not being biased is a good place to start. Obviously, that’s not always
possible, but maintaining a degree of impartiality is incredibly useful to you
as a writer, and in life.

As a writer, your job is to relate the story, not to pick favorites. It’s
easy to become too attached to one of your characters. We put a bit of
ourselves into every character we write, so it’s really easy to recognize
something of yourself in one of your characters. On its own this is fine, but
when you start playing favorites, it becomes a problem.

Sometimes bias isn’t actually bias. If you have two characters trying to
deal with a problem, and they’re both predisposed towards a specific solution
(for whatever reason), it’s not bias to have them agreeing with one another.
Even if they don’t usually agree. When this is the case, you need a reason for
the scene to exist. That could be to demonstrate character growth, to showcase
that this is rare common ground for characters, or to point out that the presented
alternative is just that stupid.

Character interactions thrive on finding how these people are similar, and
where they diverge, then working scenes around that. Arguments and debates are
a fantastic method of explaining to the audience who your characters are
without lapsing into unchallenged exposition. At this point, the other
participants aren’t there to disprove your character, they function as a kind
of acid test; showing how your character handles their philosophy being challenged.
Like I said earlier, your job isn’t to pick favorites, it’s to explain what
happened. A character who has high minded ideals but crumples under pressure will
be far more interesting in the aftermath, than someone who got their way in
every conversation and never faced serious adversity.

I’ll stress this again, your characters are not you. They’re not your
friends or family. You may care about them. But, you should never let that get
in the way of making their lives miserable. A life without adversity isn’t
going to lead to a compelling story. If you find yourself going too easy on
your characters, step back, and reevaluate what you want to do.

Now, I don’t mean you need to literally torture your characters, or force
them to (again, literally) crawl through broken glass, while everyone in their
lives die horribly. There is such a thing as too much adversity. But, if things
are going too well for your characters, it might be time to start putting
pressure back on them.

Another major method is to know both sides of the argument. This is just
good practice in the real world as well. If you know what someone else’s
argument is, before they start, you can preemptively start cutting them off by
discrediting their arguments before they’re able to bring them up.

If you’re looking at political, philosophical or theological debates, it is very important that you have a
functional understanding of the topics you’re discussing, including the
positions of the relative groups you’re representing. There isn’t a one stop
solution to this, you’ll need to actually research those positions, and do your
best to represent them in an honest fashion.

I’ll be honest, unless you’re very well versed in the specific issues,
writing political and theological debates is quite difficult. These are often irreconcilable
differences where there is no real winning. The best you can hope for is your
characters having more respect in the other’s position than they started with.

Also, while it’s important you understand both sides of the argument, that
doesn’t necessarily mean your characters need to. Remember, you have access to
information that they (and the audience) lack. They need to argue based on the
information they have, not an omniscient understanding of their opponent. They
may have worked to understand them, but that doesn’t mean they’ve succeeded.

Even when you’re just looking at your characters positions, it’s very
important to have coherent philosophical outlooks driving them. Note: not the same outlook. Good villains, ones that
stick with you, are characters who have well thought out reasons for what they’ve
done. Outside of melodrama, Saturday morning cartoons, and the occasional
Batman villain, most people don’t get out of bed in the morning, cackling at
the prospect of getting to be evil.

A calm, rational antagonist who can articulate their position logically is
far more threatening than a gibbering lunatic who spends their evenings licking
toads.

There’s a slight trick here: In the process of creating philosophical
outlooks for your other characters, it will make you more invested in them, and
more interested in seeing their argument play out. When you actually have an investment
in both characters and their positions, you less likely to be biased towards
one of them. If you’re still worried that you might be (or feel that one of
your characters must be right), then it might be time to step back and
reevaluate them carefully.

-Starke

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pop-geeks:

Aaron Ehasz wrote up this process of what you should strive for when creating great characters and what’s only gravy. It certainly covers characters like Tony Soprano and Walter White, as well as characters he’s written like Prince Zuko, Toph, Azula, etc. Your character doesn’t have to be likable. Right now, “Breaking Bad” is the…

A Quick Guide to Great Characters was originally published on PopGeeks.net

You’ve talked at length about how “instinct will get you killed,” and how it’s no match for training, but what about experience? how would someone who has been trained but never been in a real fight be likely to stack up against someone who has been fighting for years but has no formal training beyond learning from their opponents?

This is going to depend on two factors. What was your character’s training in? And, who has your untrained fighter been going up against?

If your trained combatant has been taking physical fitness classes, that won’t translate smoothly into combat. If they’ve been training in self defense or for practical combat, then their lack of “live” experience is still a significant factor.

When you’re training in martial arts, you’ll spend a significant amount of time practicing your techniques on your fellow students in a safe environment. The point of this is so that you can translate these techniques over into the real world if you need to.

In this sense, a martial artist who has spent years training in a practical martial art could easily be more “experienced” than a brawler who gets into fights with college kids behind a local bar every weekend, but end up in trouble if the experience doesn’t translate smoothly. There are plenty of recreational martial artists who get caught or get into trouble if their training hasn’t spent any time preparing or simulating a real street fight.

Military training is generally better about this, and the trainees train with the expectation that they will go out and use these skills in the real world. In this case, training is heavily dependent on who is doing the training and what they are training for. Is the character who as been trained but experienced a real fight been taught to apply their knowledge? How quickly do they learn on the fly? What is their reaction when under stress? Have they been in stressful situations before when forced to make quick life or death decisions?

It’s not just training versus no training but experience. The people in question come into play, the level of training comes into play, and the intent behind that training comes into play. A character can come into a fight with no experience but better preparation, better gear, a stronger mindset, and fresher than their compatriot who had to learn their lessons the hard way. They could fight by rote or they could be inventive, worked to understand current battlefield techniques, and sought to overcome them.

The kind of person in play on both sides is just as important if not more so than their backgrounds.

Generally speaking, self taught fighters don’t know what they’re doing, and don’t really have the fundamental training to understand what they’re seeing. They can mimic the overt actions they see, but not the gestalt of a technique. For very basic techniques, that’s enough. But more subtle techniques can completely elude, and neutralize, them.

The cliche of a fighter who copies other martial artists isn’t a complete fabrication. But, doing that first requires an extensive and varied formal education in Martial Arts. It isn’t something an untrained fighter can just pick up on a whim. They can work to become better than they are, but they need to realize that what they have isn’t enough to begin with. There’s ultimately a ceiling that they will hit where they can’t continue to improve on their own, even with all their experience. They’ll plateau out, often earlier than the inexperienced fighter who comes in with better groundwork and a better base to work from.

It’s worth pointing out, martial arts training can occur anywhere, and the quality depends on the instructor’s ability to teach and their student’s willingness to learn. It really does not matter if they have a formal dojo to work with. So it is possible to have a street fighter who has very good training, and is quite skilled, without ever having set foot in a traditional training environment. But, it’s critical to remember, this is not someone who taught themselves.

It isn’t as simple as rolling the dice for X versus Y, both can be very dangerous.

-Starke

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What could happen if a normal person wake up with a superpower? What do you think they will feel, or will do? Thank you.

That is your story.

I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but this question is really too broad to address directly. The real question is, “what do you want to do with this event?”

  • What kind of a story do you want to tell?
  • What kind of a person are you telling your story about?
  • How do superpowers change your character’s daily life?
  • In the short term?
  • Is your character okay with the short term?
  • In the long term?
  • Are they okay with the long term?
  • Are these powers a blessing or a curse? (Figuratively or literally.)
  • How do these powers change your character? (What is their character arc?)
  • How do their powers affect the people around them?
  • How do the people in their life react to their powers? (If they know about them at all.)

Once you start combining the answers for these questions together you should have a much better picture of what you’re wanting to do with your story. This will also tell you things like, “what powers did they receive?” Because their powers need to be in service to the story you’re wanting to tell.

Once you know your character, you should have a pretty good idea of what they’ll do, and what they’ll experience. But, this is your story. I wouldn’t dream of taking that from you.

-Starke

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Hi, just saw your amazing post on Daredevil. Could you comment on the choreography in Batman v Superman as well?

We haven’t seen Batman v Superman and we don’t really have any intention to. However, I can do the general Wonder Woman, Batman, and Superman breakdown using Bruce Timm’s DCAU/Timmverse which is actually just as useful when it comes to studying superhero combat. There’s some good stuff there, especially in Justice League Unlimited where we get a lot of heroes who fight in a variety of different ways.

One of the really cool things about DC’s heroes in comparison to Marvel’s is that the archetypes build to a lot of really interesting combinations which compliment each other well. It’s my personal opinion that Marvel does “Versus” stories better because Stan Lee loved the concept of superheroes beating each other up and because they’re much more neurotic. They’re more likely to get into spats over ideological differences when it comes to the right way to fight crime. Most of the Marvel heroes are very human, they’re more likely to squabble, and those squabble’s are more likely to result in fights which either threaten half the Eastern Seaboard or involve the Punisher trapping Daredevil on a rooftop full of sonic mines.

It might be weird to say that the DC heroes are more than human, but they are. They’re much more mythological, more ideals we aspire to reach. They’re the best of humanity and while they don’t have the same neurosis of Marvel, they’re stories have the potential to be incredibly uplifting when they embrace their origins. It’s a different kind of human, better than human, in some ways transhuman. They’re much better at overcoming the basic ideological pettiness which leave the Marvel heroes squabbling in a ditch.

If the next question is “who do you prefer, Marvel or DC?”

The answer is Dark Horse.

I’m kidding. Well, I’m not. Ghost is bae.

The truth is I actually like them both and I think they both tell very different kinds of stories, but those stories are very interesting in different ways. They both occasionally have identity issues, but when they’re on point then they’re fantastic.

Okay, fighting styles:

Superman: Superman doesn’t actually know how to fight. Unlike Wonder Woman and Batman, he isn’t a trained fighter. Combat isn’t his specialty and this is, in large part, because he’s never needed to learn. He’s Superman. 9/10 he’s invulnerable to most ancillary damage. He’s willing to sit there with criminals and talk it out, mostly because they can’t really do much to him. His powers mean he has an opportunity for empathy in the heat of combat which Batman can’t afford. This is why he generally gets his ass handed to him by the likes of Zodd or other surviving members of the Kryptonian military, or Darkseid. He doesn’t fight so much as flail and again, it’s fine. It makes sense. Superman is also the most emotionally driven of the Golden Trio. While he keeps himself under very strict control most of the time due to the massive collateral damage his powers can cause, he’s the one most easily goaded. There are a number of villains who prey on this flaw including Darkseid and Lex, who both goad him into taking action that have terrible backlash. His powers can be as much as curse as a blessing.

His lack of training and combat knowledge is the main reason why Batman stands a chance against him and why Batman can knock him down a peg. Wonder Woman doesn’t really have the same issues, but it helps anyway.

Batman: Batman is a very clinical fighter, he’s a tactician and a strategist. He’s trained with and been trained by some of the best warriors and hand to hand combatants the DC universe has to offer. Batman’s brain is what lets him keep up though. Of the three, he’s the most likely to see a situation’s hidden trap door or figure out an enemy’s weakness on the fly then determine a solution. He’s the voice of reason to Superman’s emotion, willing to do what’s necessary to make it through but also coming to the battle prepared. Whether that’s carrying a Kryptonite ring in a lead box every time he goes into Metropolis or just having it on standby for twenty years, Batman will always assess the situation before diving in. It’s a good question of how much Batman knows, but really the answer will generally be more than you think.

Batman is the problem solver. He’s the one who most often gets to the heart of what is really going on, sees through the machinations, and figures out why the fight is happening in the first place. The man with the plan is what he is and the best writers like Bruce Timm will recognize that the detective skills actually trump the combat skills. Batman is the Great Detective for a reason. He studies his opponents, attacks their weaknesses, and that’s the path which leads to victory.

Wonder Woman: Unlike the other two, Wonder Woman is actually a soldier. She is a warrior. She understands battle layouts, strategy, and trains with a wide variety of weapons. She can punch properly, she can grapple, and, really, she can fight. I don’t just mean that in the sense she’s classically trained or one of the best combatants in the DCU, but in so much as that’s a part of her outlook more so than Batman or Superman. They aren’t warriors in the same way and Diana can whup both their asses. When in the trio, Wonder Woman is basically the midpoint between Superman and Batman. Unlike Superman, she can actually fight rather than flail. Also unlike Superman, she has existed without all the powers that have essentially been his birthright. While Wonder Woman is physically enhanced via training and magic depending on who is writing the Amazons this week, it’s her enchanted armor forged by Hephaestus that imbues her with her defining superpowers. This gives her the context to human combat and humanity which Superman often struggles with and she has a leg up on Batman in that she’s… well… an emotionally stable adult.

Essentially, she serves as a great balance point between the two extremes of brains and heart. She fights with both without either controlling her actions. Like Superman, she has the luxury of being compassionate toward her enemies and more so than him the ability to control the fight better. Superman is often so strong he can’t really afford to fight at all if he wants to talk someone down, rather he disables them by destroying their weapons or letting him shoot at him until they run out of bullets. Batman, meanwhile, is much more fragile. While, when written right, he’s a very compassionate individual he also has to use his head to stay ahead of the curve in order to get his enemies into a situation where he can talk to them safely. Wonder Woman is the middle ground between the two. She’s a very good tactician and her skill is such that she’s taken on the entirety of the Justice League.

However, her compassion is the balancing strength. For this reason, she has an excellent track record for turning adversaries into allies.

It may not answer the question you wanted, but that’s the best I’ve got.

-Michi

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