Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Failure Is (Not) an Option

I've been banging my head against a character point in my current feature script.

The hero holds a position where you'd expect her to know what to do under extreme circumstances. Imagine a police officer or firefighter. Coping with adversity is her job. You'd assume, should everything go to hell, that you could look to this person and she'd handle things and get you out alive.

Which was ruining my script.

The story has elements of both horror and disaster movies. The characters need to fail and fail and fail (die) and finally succeed (survive). However, my hero is supposedly a skilled professional in a position of authority, and these repeated screwups just made her look incompetent. She was an extraordinary person in extraordinary circumstances that she couldn't handle. People kept dying on her watch.

So the realization I came to after talking this out with a friend is related in part to the excellent Subtle Hero discussion underway at The Artful Writer.

My hero can't be heroic from the outset. She can't be the initial leader of the group. She needs to assume that role from some other, catalyst character. She can't be the skilled professional.

She needs to be ordinary.

The initial leader, the extraordinary person, needs to fail to allow the hero to become more than she appears, more than she thinks she's capable of.

Ripley is the hero of the Alien movies, but she's not the one making plans and directing traffic at first. She's the third officer, the tagalong expert, what have you. It's only when the official chain of command is dead -- has failed -- that she can step up and find those superhuman reserves.

Do I know how I'm going to fix my script? Not yet. But I'm starting by giving my hero a demotion.


Anonymous said...

you know what I love about writer's blogs the most? reading along and finding me nodding my head..thanks for bringing this out as I can see where I can use this info for my own baffling struggle

Kira said...

Hope this was helpful, MQ! And I definitely agree about reading other writers' blogs. Amazing how much we fight the same battles. Nice to know we're not alone, huh? :)