Not terrible good characters…

Pushing on with I Knew Him today. I was thinking about characters recently, having re-read “Nightwatch” for the umpteenth time, and the fact that the person who had recently fed back on I Knew Him had said (and she stressed that it wasn’t a bad thing) that she didn’t like the characters much. 

I suppose I’ve never written nice characters. Ambrose was possibly one of the “nicest” I’ve written, but he was a wet hen and his sole purpose was to grow up and grow a pair. I wouldn’t say he was particularly nice when he did – he was just mildly nicer than most other people in the book—apart from perhaps the priest.

Nightwatch – and I will never be able to lick its boots – and particularly Sam Vimes illustrates this for me. Because Sam is a “Good Guy” but he’s most certainly NOT a nice person. The best thing you can say about him is that he can rein in the darkest part of his psyche, just barely—keeping it locked up in chains—but it’s always there, sniffing for the least little opportunity to get off its leash. He’s self-deprecating to the nth degree, has an enormous chip on his shoulder and hates just about everyone in the world except his wife, Vetinari and a few watchmen that he could trust with his life (if not the tea money.) What terrifies me, and very probably what also terrified the Monks of History, is what on earth would Vimes had become if he hadn’t come under the very temporary good influence of “John Keel”? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

None of my characters are anywhere near that mind-crushingly brilliant, but I do like to show that they are human, and full of the foibles and idiocy that that implies (and you only have to be on the internet for two minutes to see that fact explored). I know what she meant, though – many writers write Good Chaps who are basically decent and might make mistakes but they need to be a bit heroic, otherwise they wouldn’t be heroes. I tend to like characters with a healthy dark streak. :D

Those who spring to mind:

Apropos of Nothing
Sam Vimes
Catelyn Stark
Harry Dresden
Severus Snape
Mario Santelli from the  Catch trap
Belimai Sykes from Wicked Gentlemen

I’m sure there are loads of others, but I can’t think of them right now. I hesitate to say “Aragorn” because people will jump on me and complain. How very dare I, indeed.

Do you have any multi-faceted morally ambiguous characters you can’t resist? Do tell!!


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One Response to Not terrible good characters…

  1. Lee Rowan says:

    That’s interesting. I don’t see Sam Vimes as morally ambiguous at all. I don’t think he hates almost everybody–he just doesn’t trust them very much, which given his job is reasonable. To me, the defining book of his character is not Night Watch, but Thud: the Watching Dark. Imagine how strong…. And I don’t know all of those other characters, but to me what makes the difference with Vimes (as with Aragorn) is that he cares about fairness, about ordinary people getting hurt while the rich and mighty play their games. He may not always make the right decision, but he does his best, he doesn’t hurt people unnecessarily, and he never sells out. Apropos? Meh. Too self-absorbed. Same for Mario. And I always despised Snape’s bullying of children over whom he had so much power; what satisfaction is there in being cruel to a little kid? I don’t have to love a character, necessarily, but I need to respect a protagonist to care what happens to him, and I just couldn’t respect that.

    The characters I have trouble warming up to, generally, are those who don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves… and sometimes not even that. Ambrose may have been weak in many ways, but he did care about his family and about Rafe’s son. Rafe…? I could pity him, but I mostly wanted to give him a swift kick and tell him to get over himself.

    You do such wonderful characters when you let yourself write people who care. I think young Mord from Frost Fair is one of your best, and probably my favorite. I can only imagine what you’d create if you ever set your cynicism aside and wrote someone who loved with all his heart.

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