By Steve Weddle
Before I get to complaining about whatever stupid crap some idiot on the internet said this week, you should be sure you've checked out what our own Jay Stringer has been up to at MatineeIdles. He talks and writes about movies. This week he writes about Maria Bello's Mummy movie. Yes, the nice woman Jay and Russel love in that delightful Mel Gibson movie.
Speaking of Russel, he's planning to panel at Bouchercon.
Also, seems we're about a week away from our own Joelle Charbonneau's SKATING AROUND THE LAW. Did you pre-order yours yet? Call your local bookstore to make sure they have it in-stock. Go ahead.
So this week's stupid thing said by a person on the internet was this (and I paraphrase): "The main character in your book should be moral."
Character. Morals. Characters with morals. OK. Let's go.
Bucket o' crap, right? Many years ago I sat in the office of my faculty advisor as he explained to me the difference between having character and being one. (One day I'm sure I'll find out what the hell he was going on about.) But this characters with character stuff? Uh, wha?
I think it works like this. The main character fights for 300 pages (or 180 if it's noir or Graham Greene. (Why are noir books so short? My guess is that the publishing houses did focus groups and found that anyone who could read such despair for longer was likely to eat a Glock soon (and not buy more books) or so sad as to be unemployed soon (and not buy more books.))) In case I lost count on the parentheticals, here are some extra parentheses. Take what you want and leave the rest. Like most folks do with The Bible.
So the character fights for 300 pages to get the MacGuffin. Then at the end he is in a burning building and has to either grab the MacGuffin or the one-legged orphan holding a blind puppy.
Or he's involved in something bad and turns on his partners when it counts. I think I saw this movie. They robbing an armored car. Or at least I saw the previews. And the guy has to make a decision. He sacrifices something he had valued at the beginning of the movie for something his new morals tell him is valuable now.
Like in the Maria Bello movie PAYBACK. Parker has his own "code," but whether that would be considered "moral," um, I'm thinking probably not. Of course, in the movie he's not called Parker; he's called "Adolf."
Do we feel better about a character when she is doing the right thing? Do we want our heroes to be the people we aspire to be? What the hell does that even mean? What the hell is a hero?
If the main character kills a few bad guys along the way in order to save the world, that's fine. But it seems that the bad guys have to kill themselves most of the time. Like that scene in a billion movies in which our hero is fighting the bad guy and our hero has won. But he allows the bad guy to live. Because that's what good guys do. Then suddenly the bad guy isn't dead at all. No, he was faking, because that's what bad guys do. Then he gets up and dives at our hero. But our hero moves and the bad guy ends up falling on big pointy thing and dies. Phew. Dead bad guy and unsoiled good guy.
Do morals change from one book to another? Are morals relative to the story at hand? You know, is it wrong to snap the neck of a nun in a Robert Langdon book, but OK in the world of Cal Innes?
Does the character's "code" stand in for "morals"?
What does it mean to be a "moral character" anyway? Isn't it more important to be interesting?
In the world of fiction, is having "character" less important than being one?