Do Some Stories Have Characters That are TOO Human?

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All right, let’s face, we ALL love it when characters are human.  Nobody likes it when characters are so perfect that we can’t relate to them.  We want characters who have realistic struggles, realistic emotions, realistic anger, feelings of hurt, love, lust, revenge, pride…etc.

(Hopefully) we want to see these characters rise above their weaknesses and flaws.  But, we also can’t deny that we…enjoy the fact that they have these flaws.  We enjoy watching the struggle.

Perhaps we enjoy the struggle of a character who can’t seem to find a decent girlfriend; we watch him go through relationship after relationship, and we enjoy the ups and downs of his story.  It’s much better than a happy, perfect love story that has no drama at all, right?

Or perhaps we enjoy the feelings of determination, anger, and vengeance of a certain heroine that has lost EVERYTHING, and she focuses all her energy on getting back at the people who hurt her.

Perhaps we even love listening to the depressed ramblings of a divorced, lonely character, who watches the world through a window and just thinks.  Perhaps we can relate to this person in some shape or form, and it eases our pain.

Human characters are great.  But when do they not become great?

The Analogy

I’ve been reading this book about the life of Pope John Paul II (now Saint John Paul II).  Don’t worry, I’m not going to start writing about tons of religious stuff.  This great man just happened to say something really smart and wise (he was a pope, after all!), and I thought I would share it with you, since I believe it applies to writing and “human” characters:

“Without the Gospel, man remains a dramatic question with no adequate answer”-Pope Saint John Paul II

Image result for epic mikasa ackerman
Mikasa Ackerman from Attack On Titan is a character that seems to live her life as a question with no adequate answer.  She’s a boss, yes, but she lives with a constant sense of distrust towards others.  She has grown so protective of her friends that she lacks any sense of joy or hope, and has a cold sense of “killer-instinct” which comes out quite often.  Are there any other characters you can think of that might be “a question with no adequate answer”?

Why is this quote helpful and meaningful to understanding the problem of “too human” characters?

Let’s break the quote down first, starting from the end and going back to the beginning.

“…no adequate answer…”

The way I see it, this part of the quote refers to the part of “human” characters that we love.  We love the complexity of characters that have flaws and problems; at times, it doesn’t seem like those flaws or problems have any answers.

There’s an element of mystery, wonder, and even awe in regards to the intricacy of the human person.  We cannot seem to grasp the true depth of each character’s train of logic, his or her emotions, or his or her view of life.

Our mystery-craving, awe-inspired minds relish in the fact that a person can be considered a “question with no adequate answer”.  It’s exciting.

Which brings us to the next part of the quote.

“…man remains a question…”

Once again, there is an element of mystery that surrounds every person’s thoughts, words, and actions.  Also, every difficult, morally ambiguous situation we find characters in present the characters–and ourselves–with that question of who we are and what it means to be human.

Every character with flaws, with skeletons in the closet, with childhood scars, with seemingly impossible endeavors, is a question unto himself or herself.  And this is another part of “human characters” that we enjoy, that we take delight in…because we often feel like a question ourselves.

We can all feel like a question without an answer.

Get Your Head Out of the Gutter…

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Anyone remember when Katniss is “running on hatred” in Mockingjay, or when she votes to have a Hunger Games for the Capitol children?  Yes she’s been through a lot…but she’s also wallowing in her hatred and own self destruction.

In my mind, characters become “too” human when they start to wallow in their own flaws, problems, habits, etc.  This is perfectly realistic, as real-live humans do it too…but it isn’t in any way a good thing.

Trust me.  Anyone here listen to songs by Twenty-One Pilots?  Adele?  How about Linkin Park?

So many songs that these artists write are about inner struggles, inner demons, past regrets, etc….and I get it.  Maybe these artists want to vent what they’re going through.  But there comes a point where it’s not venting anymore; it’s living in your problems and making everything, even your hobby/calling, all about your struggles.

I’m guilty of this too.  I’m tempted to make my own characters from my story so steeped in problems, so filled with flaws, just so that I can feel okay with my own.  But guess what?  That’s going to help nobody.

eren yaegar
Eren’s (Attack on Titan) answer to every problem is…violence.  And turning into a monster.  He forsakes his humanity to win his battles.

When we see characters wallowing in their sins or crises–whatever it may be–instead of rising above them, the act of wallowing in our flaws becomes NORMALIZED.  It’s NORMAL to allow hatred to consume you.  It’s NORMAL to let your previous, abusive relationship ruin your current one.  It’s NORMAL to make out with someone so that you’ll feel whole inside.  It’s NORMAL to become the bully because you were bullied as a child.

Image result for agent melinda may
Agent May from Agents of SHIELD is another character that wallows in her own depression and regrets…so much that she’s become rigid and driven by anger.

It’s NORMAL for every character, every real-live person, to be “a question without an answer”.

And you’re right.  It IS normal.

But only “without the Gospel…”.

The “Gospel”

fate stay night pic
When you possess the “sense of the ‘Gospel'” that I’m about to talk about….

Following the quote-analogy that I’ve been using, we must discern the phrase, “Without the Gospel”.

“Without the Gospel…”

For the sake of the analogy, insofar as we apply it to characters, I take this to mean “Without a sense of right or wrong” or “without a sense of truth”.  Or “without a sense of hope” or “without a sense of faith” or “without a sense of love” or “without a sense of mercy”.

Because all of those things–right and wrong, truth, hope, faith, love, and mercy–is what the Gospel is all about.

Rewrite the quote now:

“Without a sense of right or wrong, truth, hope, faith, love or mercy, man remains a question with no adequate answer”

Why does this fix things?

Because the flaws and struggles of characters will only ever drown them if they don’t have this sense of “the Gospel”.  Without this sense of “the Gospel”, there IS no answer to man, who is a mighty question indeed!

Anger will have no purpose or end.  It will only lead to more anger.  It will lead to revenge.  There will be no satisfaction.

Image result for scar fma
Scar (specifically FMA 2003 version) wallows in his anger.  His anger eventually turns into a state of hopelessness which leads him to sacrifice the lives of hundreds of soldiers.  He believes that death is the only way he will find peace.

Lustful, steamy attractions will just go on and on and end in heartbreak after heartbreak.  There will be no love, no romance, no happy ending.

Depressing moods and streams of consciousness will have no meaning without hope.  Without mercy.  Without faith.  There will only be despair as the mind slips into a state of constant resentfulness and quiet brooding.

anime rage
Ichigo Kurosaki’s (Bleach) whole identity is consumed by darker and more “powerful” versions of himself.  He wallows in a desire for power, and obtains it by going deeper and deeper into darkness in order to get what he wants, even if it is protecting the people he cares about.

This “sense of the Gospel” that I speak of is the only way that we, as writers, as bloggers, as authors, will be able to create characters that do not keep humanity down in the dumps.  We must acknowledge how broken humanity is, how destructive we are unto ourselves…but we must also acknowledge that, by our art, we have a duty to strengthen the world around us by proclaiming the truth.

And what is the truth?

Humanity is a broken, fallen race, that will never be able to rise above its flaws and sinfulness…

…without the Gospel.

But with this sense of the “Gospel”, everything falls into place.  Everything makes sense.  Anger is satisfied by justice.  Sadness is satisfied by love and comfort (not depression).  Doubt is satisfied by faith.  Despair is satisfied by hope.  Longing and attraction are satisfied by love and sacrifice.  Confusion is satisfied by the truth.

And humankind, a question unto itself, is satisfied with an adequate answer: the “Gospel”.


This took me a long time to think about and write…so please let me know what you think in the comments!!!

If you like the way I write and the things I write about, you’d really enjoy my fantasy novel, Elithius!

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Cover art by Elizabeth M

It’s only 99 cents on Kindle and only $12 as a gorgeous paperback.  Please check it out here if you’re interested!

Only 99 CENTS AS AN EBOOK!  DON’T BUY ANOTHER PACK OF GUM AND BUY THIS BOOK INSTEAD!

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Do Some Stories Have Characters That are TOO Human?”

    1. Thanks! ALSO. Notice the picture right after the subtitle “The Gospel”? Use that as a reference for Book 2 Cover! John on the left, Kiilda on the right.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Awesome post! I agree we readers enjoy the characters’ struggles, that it’s normal to have darkness within one’s heart. I also agree it goes downhill when the characters immerse themselves in that darkness for too long. I get it; I like the characters for the good values they have, so I feel bad for them if they mess up badly and temporarily goes into depression / hatred / rage / etc. But when it goes on for too long and too deep in, sometimes I want to slap them and tell them to buck up!

    There was actually a video game I stopped playing because of the protagonist’s long drawn out depression after accidentally destroying a planet and all life in it. While I get the depression, what I couldn’t stand was how he was so wallowed in depression and grief that he risks his team’s lives (he’s the captain) on more than one occasion. Once was fine, twice was pushing it, and the third time was when I stopped playing. The story was just not moving for me. 🙁

    I think there needs to be a balance. After all, I read a story not to feel bad, but to feel good when the characters overcome their struggles and there is hope for a brighter future in the ending. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I totally get it. And wow yeah I didn’t even think to delve into video games. I’m glad you brought that up! And I’m glad you see what I’m saying, I wasn’t sure if people would get where I’m coming from.

      Yes there needs to be balance, because we should strive to be realistic…but yeah its better to promote messages of hope and positivity.

      Liked by 1 person

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