damalur: (you must be myth-taken)
no, use my SPACE name! ([personal profile] damalur) wrote2017-02-02 12:22 pm

on shitty people (as characters)

[personal profile] odyle and I were have one of our regular talks about shitty wizards recently, and it made me realize the characters I like (and like to write) most aren’t shitty wizards but shitty people. Characters who do bad things with good intentions are so very much my favorite – I like when they’re in headlong bad-decisions spirals, and I like when they’re smacked in the face with self-awareness and try to pull out of the spiral and work towards atonement. That narrative tension is so interesting. It’s why Tony Stark and Marian Hawke (the purple version of her, at least) and even Mara Jade are my favorite POVs. I think it probably even informs the way I write Shepard; I tend to hit the atonement angle really hard with the ruthless/colonist/paragon combination.

That Shepard (as I write her) qualifies as a shitty person isn’t immediately apparent in stories set during the war, because her entire adult identity is built around her military career, which is in a lot of ways a safe environment for her. The Alliance provides focus and meaning to her life and allows her to indulge in some pretty dark impulses while still nominally acting in the name of the greater good. She can have the confidence – and very possibly all this knowledge is subconscious, at least at the beginning of her career – that the military acts as a limiting force that both can and will stop her from going too far.

That’s one of the main reasons I tend to write Shepard as someone with an interest in boxing; it doesn’t erase her effort to learn how to problem-solve through diplomacy and communication, but it does undercut it: she thinks with her fists, she has a lot of anger that comes out through violence, she wants to solve her problems by hitting someone in the face repeatedly until they take on all her pain and all she has to feel is release or strength or numbness. Boxing as a hobby also makes for an interesting contrast with Shepard-as-sniper; that’s her professional mode, the cold remove, attacking from a distance, but beneath it she still has the urge to get up in someone’s face and hurt them.

That’s also why I can’t let Aratoht go – Aratoht is the ultimate example of “Did I do this because it needed to be done, or did I just want to make the batarians bleed?” (”Both” is the answer – “both” is always the most interesting answer.)

I did a mid-war story about Shepard, but I find that what I’m most interested in now is post-war fic that explores who and what she is outside of the service. That push-and-pull of “How long can I continue to do [x] before I lose my soul? Have I lost it already? Do I care? What if I save others by sacrificing myself? What if I want to make that sacrifice so badly that I’ll take any excuse?” really grabs my attention. Tony Stark (the 616 version) takes it to a whole new level because he’s such a big-picture character; part of the reason that I continue to be such a lurker in the Avengers fandom is that the writers churn out endless explorations of the Registration and Incursion stuff that touches on those questions.

I like shitty characters when they’re all tied up with control issues, when they’re mired in trauma but struggling to overcome all the ways that trauma shades their perspective and choices, when they’re overcome by self-doubt but pretend they aren’t, when they say one thing while meaning another and thinking a third and feeling a fourth. I like bouncing them off of clean-cut Good Alignment heroic types. I like it when they lie to the people around them as a self-defense mechanism (I don’t approve, I just think it’s fascinating behavior!). I like it when they think love is manufactured bullshit or don’t think they deserve love or think love has no place in their lives but the story slowly reveals that they have a deep, innate yearning for love. I like watching characters who are self-loathing but also arrogant enough to believe that they’re the ones who have to Fix Everything; I like watching them try, and boy do I like watching them fail.

This all really colors the way I write Hawke, but I feel like it’s background stuff that probably isn’t obvious or even present at all on the page. :( More character studies, maybe? More Hawke and Cassandra, definitely. (More like more practice at writing, haha.)