[The Story] Other Narrative Failures

Just as I learn from my mistakes, I also learn from the mistakes of others. It’s not for petty reasons. It’s not to make myself look better than someone else. Rather: this person messed up in a way any reasonable person might act. Let me learn how they failed so …I don’t fail, too! I would like to think “The Story” main characters John [left] and Trishna [right] act similarly. But wouldn’t that be boring?

Spoilers?: Minor (character motivations, world-building)

Avoiding mistakes helps avoid tarnishing one’s reputation.

While it’s difficult putting your ego on the line and admitting your embarrassing failures, this process improves your character. It’s building self-awareness, really. That works great in social and professional settings, but within structured fiction, it gets messy because I think we want this sense of cohesive character traits that can be boiled down to three positive traits and one mild negative trait. When was the last time you met someone that didn’t have more negative traits or wasn’t as caricaturistic?

They were probably hiding most of their personality from you…

Since I like John and Trishna, my natural inclination is giving them plenty of good traits and minimizing their bad traits. That bias might increase their likeability in the short term. Characters like horror mangaka Fuura from Comic Girls start off grating and can eventually become likable, nuanced, and fully developed, but it’s an uphill battle. The thing is, characters like Fuura are common in real life, and without annoying characters, stories might be boring.

That’s where digesting criticism is helpful for me.

I stopped watching fan-favorite Devilman Crybaby after finding frustration with its narrative structure and characters. I’ll summarize one critical analysis of good/bad character traits as feeling connections to characters. Without agency, we don’t care about their motivations or actions. If everything a character does revolves around one central contrivance, whether another character or some cause, they are just tools. Without wider aspirations, we won’t have a connection to them.[1] We need connections to empathize with characters and our peers.

Without that nuance and empathy, why would we care?

When our coworkers, bosses, and the frequent cast of recurring characters we meet in life have grating traits, it’s not because they are bad people. It’s just their flaws outweigh their favorable traits. If that same person had more favorable traits, we would tolerate them better. Conversely, too many favorable traits might seem unreasonably unfair, which is why we negatively identify character types like this as Mary Sues or as conveniently perfect characters codifying narcissism.

These sorts of characters are never celebrated.

My buddy namedghost once told me: “rather than throw out [media] you disliked, analyze what you don’t like about them, and really figure it out, so you don’t repeat it.[2]” When I watch shows like Comic Girls or Devilman Crybaby, I’ll subconsciously summarize and consciously consider traits that John or Trishna might have, and then I’ll wonder:

Was this character successful?
Could they succeed?
Or were they a failure?

[1] Paraphrasing from Best Guy Ever. Originally, I was just going to use his quote wholesale, but it didn’t feel right, especially when I edited out the spoilers, so I used my own wording. Don’t mind me.
[2] When namedghost lived in the same area as me, we’d frequently talk about the successes and failures of certain stories.
Sources: The Story’s Imaginarium.
Inspirations[1] Quote.
Related: Essays building “The Story.”
Photo: Generic photo to save time.
Written On: August 13th [1 hour]
Last Edited: September 17th [45 minutes] – I didn’t like the first or second draft. The third draft turned out debateably… acceptably.
My big goal is writing. My most important goal is writing "The Story." All other goals should work toward that central goal. My proudest moment is the most recent time I overcame some fear, which should have been today. I'm a better zombie than I was yesterday. I'm not better than you and you're not better than me. Let's strive to be better every day.