Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Cool Or Real?

Reading a few books recently, I've found myself in the crux of a dilemma - should the characters I write be more on the "God I wish I was that cool!" side, or the "That is so me!" side?  In other words, should the main character be super-cool, or should the main character be more relatable?

There's nothing wrong with either.  We've read about both.  Harry Dresden and Jack Reacher are both guys' guys who are always able to come up with the right solution and react with little to no emotion beyond, "Eh, no big deal."  Even  alcoholic Bobby Dollar from The Dirty Streets of Heaven always has the right weapon, is rarely afflicted with self-doubt beyond being cool enough for everyone, and always gets the gorgeous girl in the end.  Most people aspire to be this happy-go-lucky, even with all of the problems associated with it.  As an aside, my go-to for cool characters is Dean Winchester from Supernatural - I freely admit to having a man-crush on him, as he is every bit of cool that I've always wanted to be.

But here's my problem with writing guys like that - I'm not cool.

No, this isn't a humble-brag.  I've done some cool stuff(jumping out of airplanes, leading troops in combat, rappelling out of a helicopter), but I'm not personally cool.  I love to watch the news and sci-fi shows.  I like to read about zombies, vampires, and werewolves.  I play online games like Warcraft.  I played chess in high school, and I still know enough to beat the average person.  I didn't date much until college, and even then not until my senior year.  I wear t-shirts that were made in the 1990s.  I'm the guy who doesn't talk much around folks I don't know because I don't want to come across as either stupid or lame.  All of that makes it hard for me to write about "cool" and have the audience believe it.

However, I think us uncool people, with all our geekery and self-doubt, are the ones in the majority.  Sure, most of us like to read about the cool guy, but we know we're not him, which I believe makes it hard to relate to a character that's so cool.  I think that a character can do cool things while being uncool, like the characters I've written in Akeldama and Salvation Day.  The main character in each does cool things - like killing vampires of leading an assault that could determine the fate of humanity - but they're not cool per se.  They doubt.  They're angry.  They hold grudges.  They're horrible with women.  But they're good at heart an strive to overcome the world in spite of their own uncoolness.

Call it a weakness of mine - I write uncool characters doing some cool things because that's who I am, so that's what I can write.  I liken it to the character I tried writing for Wrongful DeathI originally wanted Christian Gettis to be a teenage girl, but I couldn't make her believable, no matter how hard I tried, because I've never understood the minds of teenage girls(especially when I was a teenage boy).  However, I've been a teenage boy about to graduate high school, so it was much easier to write a character like that.

But what does the audience want?  In the end, that's who needs to care the most, since those are the folks who buy our books.  Do they want slick perfection and someone who didn't know the Friday night lineup on ABC?  Do they want the guy who drops the mic, kisses the supermodel, and then shrugs it all off as no big deal?  They might.  Surely we all want to know folks like that, if for no other reason than to pretend we might one day be that cool.  Or will they better relate to someone more like them, the geek who is a bit awkward at times but who rises to the challenge presented to them?  While I like the cool guys mentioned above, I want to know my heroes have flaws, for when they do, it lets me know that perhaps I can accomplish the same kinds of things if I just put in the effort.  To me, the best heroes, the ones who get an empathetic reaction out of me, are the ones who I can envision being.  The cool guy may strive, but it doesn't seem like a big deal when he wins.  However, the real guy who wins is exhausted and allows us to revel in the triumph with him.

Don't get me wrong - either way works.  I just have a hard time writing the first way(cool guys).  Maybe readers don't want the uncool.  I guess I'll find out starting in May.

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