Discussion in 'Fan Town' started by ChelG, Dec 20, 2016.
L. Ron Hubbard can't write.
Why is there no "WTF" button?
I think "Witnessed" works in this context
Okay, the ID part is even worse than the character in the thing I'm reviewing who cut off her tracking device and then explicitly left it in the vehicle she was travelling in without exiting the vehicle. Do the writers or the characters just not get what those things are for?
Speaking of, what's more aggravating?
a) Characters who refuse to even try to solve their problems even though options to at least try to are staring them in the face (as I've said before, not necessarily options which would work, but ones which MIGHT work and which the character has no reason not to try), or
b) Characters who try to solve their problems in the most failtastic way possible (see "keeping tracking device with you after cutting it off") and this is treated by the narrative like they did all they reasonably could do and the reader couldn't possibly see a better way?
Both make me feel like the writer's personally insulting my intelligence, and it's especially offensive when the same character does both in the same story!
First one is worse, imo. Second one is a failure of logistical realism; first is a failure of emotional realism.
Although I have a soft spot for some “characters that don’t do anything” because I headcanon them as having executive dysfunction or being stuck in the freeze response. (This is rarely adequately supported in the text.)
Fortunately, this is a Hubbard story, and thus features both!
For context, the 'thrice damned Prince Caucalsia story' is that Earth was visited in the distant past by an alien from Heller's race (he's an alien come to stop global warming/pollution so they can take over the world (really)) named 'Prince Caucasia' (really) who created human civilization (really) while hiding from the other aliens.
*Yes, this/these books feature a mafia bomber named 'Bang-Bang Rimbombo'
Note that this 'bug' is basically a psychic camera that is literally surgically implanted in Heller's body. Which is blocked by carbon. Okay.
That's... that's not how...
I think the first one is more potentially devastating to the story’s ability to have an impact if not handled well, and the second one is a bigger pet peeve for me.
As far as the first one, I think the level of acceptable very bad or nonexistent problem solving depends on exactly the level of believable motivation the story manages to convey for it. If the author can convince me that the character has a strong reason for behaving in this fashion or for thinking about it in this way, sure. I’m here for it. It doesn’t even have to be a good reason, it just has to be understandable and compelling enough for the circumstances.
Infinite Jest is probably the most extreme example I can cite of characters driven by compulsion or other distorted thinking to do what amounts to nothing to solve their problems, or make brand new problems through decisions so obviously bad that they themselves can’t believe they’re even considering that. An overwhelming compulsion, written convincingly, is an incredibly high level of motivation for being unable to act in obvious ways to solve your problems, or to even create new problems for yourself through uniquely terrible spontaneous decision making. It wasn’t ever easy. It was losing invisible wars in your own head over what you quite obviously should or should not do. It was actually pretty exhausting and I never finished the book so I don’t know how that turned out in the end. But it was fucking well written.
Or like, Starfish by Peter Watts. The main character is pathologically passive in the face of danger at the beginning of the story. Forgetting she has a weapon is very much a secondary problem to completely surrendering to the inevitability of death and not knowing what to do when it doesn’t happen. Her coworker gets really angry about it at one point, which she reacts to by, shockingly enough, totally freezing up physically and emotionally and acting as passive as possible. You can clearly understand why she’s acting the way she is, because the book is third person limited from her point of view. You can see where her reaction to fear puts her in more danger and where it’s sometimes actually an advantage, and understand that either way she’s doing the very best she can. She isn’t putting in a single iota less effort than her more proactive coworker, even when the results are more profound stillness versus more visible activity.
Or Deadpool, who probably makes the fewest catastrophic life choices when he does nothing but sit on the couch and watch syndicated television. For anyone else, solving at least some of his worst problems would probably be pretty easy, but he tends to treat everything straightforward like a trick question because he is not actually capable of handling basic life skills or performing mundane tasks with any consistency. If the answer really is that simple, he’s fucked. He doesn’t try to solve a lot of his most obvious problems at all because those are usually the areas where he is most devastatingly unable to function. It generally ends best if he doesn’t try. He often can only afford to be somewhat aware of this, because it is itself a very basic problem that he can’t solve.
These are characters who frequently can’t solve their most fundamental problems even if the solution is staring them in the face, and may actively create bizarre new problems that nobody should even have. They probably also do the other thing, try to solve problems in the most fatalistic way possible and fail to see any other option, but not because the story thinks they’re objectively correct. In any case, for them it’s just a facet of their greater inability to address their problems in an active and direct way. But they work, as characters and in stories, because the story understands that being unable to solve a simple problem in a really obvious way is not necessarily the same thing as a lack of meaningful thought and serious effort. These people are trying so, so hard. It’s painful to know that other characters who don’t have the benefit of your perspective tend to assume that they’re not trying.
If you are looking at a character and you are the one who feels like they’re not even trying, for no reason the story has bothered to help you understand, I think it’s hard to connect to the character at all. Like @bushwah said, it’s a failure of emotional realism. Even the most remarkably ineffective people tend to be trying very hard at something. It’s difficult to get invested in characters like that because they don’t feel right. I don’t tend to get annoyed at this so much as I think I just don’t care. I guess I lose interest and mostly forget about it. And that’s probably why I could continue listing characters who are very bad at actively addressing their most important problems (House) but I’d really struggle to list any where I think it’s an unintentional fault in the story. I’d imagine it’s a pretty common problem, but it’s not likely to have a chance to make a big emotional impact because I’m not invested.
Meanwhile, if it’s option B and the characters are reasonable enough that I am invested, but they just fail to solve problems in anything but the worst possible way, that’s gonna eat at me in a far more spectacular manner. I’m still very upset that they didn’t take three more minutes to listen to the computer and ask it why it had gone into a total security lockdown in the first Resident Evil movie before rebooting it. Yes it was annoying and cryptic, but it was perfectly willing to talk. As far as I remember, they didn’t establish that there was any reason to fear that talking too long would put them in danger or make the problem worse. “It’s evil, reboot it before the conversation is over!” is definitely a straightforward and direct attempt to solve the problem, it’s just also a pretty strange thing to do absent any information about why you should. And it unleashed the zombie apocalypse. So there were consequences, but because I don’t remember the movie making any attempt to explain why this person might go out of their way to make this particular bad choice, it felt like the idiot ball had hit someone in the head really hard, causing them to temporarily lose control of their decisions so the plot could happen in spite of the characters.
I probably would have gone “oh well they did it to themselves and that’s frankly what they deserve for being so bad at this” except that I liked the rest of the movie. It didn’t rock my whole world but I felt it maintained a very good, consistent level of tension throughout, which can’t be the easiest thing to do or everyone would be doing it and it wouldn’t have stood out to me. It borrowed a lot from other popular movies in the same genre (Cube), but it borrowed the flashy things rather than deeper story elements that would have made it feel like a rip off, and it executed the flashy things with technical proficiency. I wanted Alice to make it out alive, which I think is probably the most basic test of whether you are currently watching a movie as a fan of good or bad horror movies.
The fridge logic only matters to me because I liked the movie as a horror film. If I didn’t think it was a good horror movie, I don’t think I’d remember whether the characters made good choices unless they were so bad it was funny.
So option B annoys me more because option A is such a critical failure mode that I probably don’t even notice that there’s any reason to be annoyed.
Yeah, I'm only unrecoverably bothered by characters acting like incompetent idiots if I feel like the story has given me reason to expect them not to be incompetent. If a veteran soldier cries helplessly in the face of physical danger, I'm probably going to be pretty irritated, but if some random person off the street does, I'm just going to go, "Okay, this is a character who cries helplessly in the face of physical danger." It's not going to particularly endear the character to me (tangent about Brandon Sanderson's slider model of character investment goes here), and if there aren't other things going for the story I might get bored and leave because "dumb idiot gets whumped" is rarely what I want to read when the world is full of other things I could read instead, but "story contains an idiot" isn't something I actively hold against it on its own.
Possibly-controversial example, but I reread Frankenstein a while back, and the title character is a big dumb depressed egotistical gay idiot. A lot of people find him frustrating company, because he makes basically nothing but a nonstop string of the worst possible decisions. But I ended up oddly- if somewhat condescendingly- attached to his high-strung, melodramatic ineffectuality because as a person with a history of being an egotistical Smart Kid(TM) with depression who made a lot of objectively terrible decisions and didn't take a lot of obvious solutions, I was totally willing to believe that ol' Vic was fully capable of beating himself up incessantly over things going wrong without ever actually learning any of the things from it that would cause him to adjust his behavior so everything could stop going wrong. It still probably wouldn't have worked if the book a) wasn't in first-person with a framing device that makes it very clear this is being filtered through several layers of unreliable self-serving narration, and b) didn't come out of the gate with the information that this wasn't going to have a happy ending, but since it was and did, I was willing to stick around to watch how Victor's inability to recognize his actual flaws screwed over everyone who had the misfortune to be in his blast radius.
I want this tangent!!
For me it depends heavily on the character, and whether or not they seem the type to behave like that. If they are, I’ve got no issue with it, but if not, it’s super annoying and feels like the writer has completely forgotten basic aspects of that character’s...well, characterization.
Context is key for me too. As a hypothetical example, let’s say you have a character who never forgets their purse and keys under normal circumstances. If there’s an extenuating situation that might plausibly cause them to not grab their stuff—say, their house is actively on fire and they have to crawl out the window to save themselves—I can buy it, but if it’s just “oh, I forgot my keys on my way out” or something, and it‘s been made clear that this is not something they would do, I’ll be at least a bit annoyed.
So, the character sliders were a thing he talked about in his lecture series on writing SF/F. Basically, what he said is he thinks about making people care about characters as a balance between three factors: likeability, proactivity, and effectiveness. People care more the higher any of those is, so if you want to keep audience investment in a character who's low on one axis, they have to be comparatively higher on one or more of the others. For instance, Wile E. Coyote isn't a particularly sympathetic figure and it's always a foregone conclusion that he's going to fail horribly, but he's still enjoyable to watch because he's trying so hard. Thus the failure state of people caring more about the villains than the heroes; villains are usually highly proactive and effective, and when an author has built the entire plot around an antagonist's Dastardly Plan, the heroes can mostly end up reacting to external conflict rather than initiating action themselves. The example he used was MCU Thor, and how a lot of people left the movie way more invested in Loki than in Thor, because while Loki did a lot of things that were really not great, he had goals that he cared a lot about and was constantly making progress toward them, while Thor spent a lot of the movie just kind of bumbling through situations he was in because of other people.
So in the case of our theoretical character who cries helplessly when put in physical danger, that might increase their likeability score slightly for someone who enjoys seeing characters failing to cope well when they're in over their head (which, like, no judgment, shine on you woobie-whumping diamonds), but it's neither proactive nor effective. So, assuming a spherical woobie in a vacuum, a lot of audiences will probably gain more interest/investment in a character who makes some effort to get out of the situation, even if they end up failing.
I think a sense of unfairness also plays into this. Loki and Lenie Clarke of Starfish, who collapses into herself but would not think of crying because that’s far too much vulnerability and requires being horribly in touch with your own emotions and basically gets you hurt worse, both have someone right there that they very understandably see as a benchmark for how strangely easy other people have it. It’s not fucking fair, and if they get one over on their competition, it’s pretty satisfying.
Continuing the 'RPGs still count as terrible fiction' theme...
Actually, the whole thing is quality. Terrible RPG design meets HiStORiCaL aCCuRacY of the worst kind.
Honestly, I'm not so sure what everyone else is doing there.
... you gain EXP from combat equal to enemy level/your level. Plus some other math, but it doesn't matter.
Every character starts at level zero.
Do you see the problem here?
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