Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting What She Deserves

I’ll admit I sometimes watch Buffy reruns for inspiration. There’s a good laugh in almost every episode, even the serious ones. The thing that brings me back time and again, though, is the consistency of the characters and their depth.

For those of you who don’t know (both of you), here’s a simplified recap of the show’s premise: Buffy Summers is the chosen one, the one girl in the world who has the super-human speed, strength, and agility to take on the vampires and win. Other than her Watcher, she keeps her identity as the Slayer secret and walks through the world alone. Except Buffy’s not so good at secret or alone. She has a circle of friends who help her out and, I think, keep her sane.

One thread that runs throughout the show’s seven seasons is Buffy’s need to have someone to love. She needs someone who can understand her, someone who can accept what she is and love her because of, or maybe in spite of, it. She needs something good, something happy, to balance out the suckage of slaying all the time.

First, she finds Angel. He’s a vampire who was cursed by a gypsy many years ago, so now he has his soul. He doesn’t prey on humans; he tries to keep them safe. Angel was never my favorite. Even the first time I watched the earlier seasons, I thought he was too much the tortured hero. There’s too much of the martyr in him for me. Plus, he doesn’t solve Buffy’s problem – if he feels true happiness he loses his soul and becomes evil again. Not such a good thing when you’re looking for someone to be with.

When Buffy goes to college, she meets Riley, a down-home farm boy from Iowa. Riley’s more than he seems – he’s a member of a super-secret military group trying to neutralize the “sub-terrestrial” threat. Sounds good, right? He’s nice, he’s cute, he fights vampires and demons. He’s also human. Buffy’s not, not really. She’s something more and I think she deserves more than Riley could give her.

Enter Spike. Spike has been a baddie throughout the series. He’s a vampire looking out for himself and no one else. Mostly. Until he falls in love with Buffy. Then he’s still bad, and still looking out for himself, but he really wants to impress her, make her love him. He does horrible things in the process, but in the end he chooses to regain his soul so he can be worthy of Buffy. That’s what does it for me. That makes him better than Angel, better than Riley. He made the choice, knowing that she might not love him back and that he would still have the soul (and thus the guilt for all he’d done). Even without a soul, he loved her.

Of the three major love interests Buffy has, I would want my characters to be more like Spike. Even though he starts out evil, even though he’s despicable through most of the series, his redemption was believable. He was the one I loved to hate, hated to love, and then just loved. He’s the one I want to emulate - I want characters you feel something about, characters who are real.

What about you? If you’ve seen the series would you pick someone else? What about the minor interests, or the ones that went nowhere? Would you want your characters to be like them?

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Story versus Craft

I was researching fiction contests the other day and found a link to last year's winning story for a fairly prestigious contest. Thinking it would give me some insight into what the judges wanted, I read the story.

The piece was beautifully crafted. Every sentence was tight, each scene moved the plot along, and the grammar was perfect. But (you knew there was one coming) the story bored me. I've seen the same story done in the same way (though maybe not crafted so well) at least a hundred times. It didn't offer me, as a reader, anything new.

It brought up a discussion between a friend and me. As a reader who is not a writer, she says she'd rather read a great story with clunky prose or grammar errors. She doesn't care how beautifully crafted a piece is if it has a story that she's seen over and over or that doesn't hold her interest. As a writer who is also an avid reader, I am not sure where I draw the line.

I can only think of one book I ever stopped reading because I didn't like the plot. No matter how well-written it was, nothing could make me finish that book. I know there have been times, however, when I stopped reading something because poor grammar or awkward prose pulled me out of the story too often.

I aspire to have every story I write be as well-crafted as that contest winner. I also want to write stories that you, as a reader, cannot put down. I guess that's where my line is drawn - I want the best of both worlds.

What about you? Where's your line?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The One Who Waited

I finished what I suspect may be the last book in Anne Bishop's Black Jewels series today. I won't post spoilers, but the stories (It was a collection of short stories.) got me thinking about the character of Daemon Sadi.

Daemon is a Warlord Prince who waits 1700 years for his soulmate, the Queen he's meant to serve, to be born. Waiting 1700 years for anything says a lot about a character, but he waited 1700 years, most of them as a slave, and then had to wait for her to grow up. To me, that shows determination and a single-minded dedication to her that can be hard to portray in a character. It probably also shows that he's at least a little crazy. Why else would he wait 1700 years for someone who might never have been born?

Throughout the series, Daemon does some gruesome things, but Ms. Bishop always brings him back to being, if not likable, at least understandable. Daemon's sense of loyalty is shown through his waiting for, and interaction with, his Queen. If he does something gruesome or violent, it's because he felt it would protect his queen.

I noticed the same sort of thing in the last season of Doctor Who. Rory waited two thousand years for Amy to be released from the Pandorica. He loved her so much that he sentenced himself to two thousand years of waiting because he thought she needed someone to protect her. Rory is the total opposite of Daemon in terms of character - he's more the hail-fellow-well-met type than the kill-first-ask-questions-later type of character - but he waits just the same.

They wait. They wait because they are loyal. They wait because they feel a need to protect their mates. They wait because anything else would ring false.

As the characters have been drawn they have to wait. Obviously this isn't something we can use with the run-of-the-mill character, though. Humans can't wait a couple thousand years without some outside help. So what do you do with a human character? How do you show loyalty?

Maybe I'll need to know how to show loyalty in a normal human someday, but for now I think I'll stick with the ones with something extra. I like the ones who wait.