Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Hero Problem

I have been reading a book lately that has been less than stellar in my mind but I keep reading, hoping that maybe the book will pick up and suddenly the wasted hours will seem like they were worth it. Unfortunately, I am about 15 pages in sight of the end and the climax is just being reached. From what I have read the climax will definitely be missing the big "wow" that it should have.

Despite being a poorly written book, it did remind me of something that seems rampant in many books where there is a whole end of the world, hero has to save us thing. The hero problem that I am talking about is the "We don't have the time we need to prepare."

For some reason, this problem has really been grating on me. Story after story, movie after movie, book after book, there is the conflict that draws the characters together...namely the end of the world. Okay, fine, I can get behind those types of stories.

In these stories there is the good side that is trying to tap the main characters and get them ready for the impending battle. And there is the bad side that spends the entire storyline plotting out ways to make the heroes fail before they get together for the final epic battle, which is also the climax of the book.

I get the premise, although I tend to avoid writing in such stark shades of black and white. In fact, I tend to feel that shades of gray are really the best way to create a gripping story. Everyone knows that white defeats black and there really is no surprise at the end when the good guys win. Sometimes it is fine and the story, if written well, makes for an enjoyable read.

However, the true gems are in those shades of grey when you wonder, will light defeat darkness and do we truly know if the person we view as the antagonist is truly one or is the hero. Yes, the story is harder to write but if there is a compassion there for all the characters, the reaction for the reader is emotional and worth the struggle of the writer. The thunderclouds of grey can lead to a kaleidoscope of color that is breathtaking to experience.

But I have kind of meandered off topic and really, my frustration comes down to those stark black and white ideas and the way that heroes are tapped at just the last second. In the book I am reading, the author even goes so far as to spell it out for the reader, just in case it wasn't clear. At one point, a character said, "This type of training takes years but there isn't the time...the battle is upon us." (Paraphrasing a bit but he did say takes years and the heroes didn't have the time to train.)

Miraculously, (hey we are dealing with the light) the heroes managed to learn the ancient skills within an hour and also managed to have sex during that time while demons are hunting them. Wow, riveting stuff.

The moment that sentence was uttered in the book, I actually sighed, rolled my eyes and put down the book, leaving it where it was to read later. First, it irritated me that the author was so blatant about the whole thing. Second, it has been done too many times. Third, what the heck is wrong with the light side?

Okay, I get it. There is suspense in wondering if the heroes will be strong enough to defeat it but unless the writer decides to kill off the main characters and have the bad guys win, then there really isn't that much suspense. There is also the whole underdog thing and we all love to root for the underdog. Unfortunately, if the character can learn what is needed in an afternoon, he is not really the underdog. In fact, he is a protege in the art of mystical powers.

My main problem is that the light doesn't seem to have their stuff together. I mean, you know the Apocalypse is going to come. You have been training people for centuries for this day, have set everything in place but you forget about the chosen one. Oh no, we didn't forget about him, we decided to tap him late in the battle to make things more interesting.

Wait, what? Why would you do that?

Chances are, they wouldn't. It just seems silly. Okay, let's leave our weapon there to rust and then right before the battle, we'll try to flake off a little of the rust and maybe we'll survive. The answer would be no. If you went onto the battlefield with a rusty blade you wouldn't make it through the first charge.

As you can tell, the whole hero problem is really a big peeve of mine. It is okay for the hero to be a little seasoned. It is okay for him to have his loss of faith, his shade of grey when maybe he doesn't know if his next foot will land in darkness or light. It is okay to think of a plot that is completely different from the last.

They say that all the ideas of been used but I really believe that if you wade out into the murky depths of grey, you can pull up a few shining gems of color that are new and exciting. Even the gem is something that has been seen before, maybe, just maybe, by working a little harder, I won't have to read the line, "This type of training takes years but there isn't the time...the battle is upon us."

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