Well-written Characters (Part Three)

May 02, 2015 maddoctorartist 0 Comments

As both a consumer of various entertainment media and a writer, characters are one of the key factors that decide if I end up liking a franchise or not, and that's probably true for many people. As shown by my One Hundred Character Meme, I enjoy a variety of different characters.

However, what I like even more is a well-written character. What defines what this is will be different for different people, but it got me thinking: what makes ME consider a character well-written? How can I adore one character in one series and yet dislike a very similar character in another? And better still, how can this help me make sure the characters I create are similarly written?

So, in this four-part series, I'm going to apply some simple criteria to several examples from books, video game, TV and film, and see if they fit or fail the Sam's Well-Written Character Test (TM).

Please remember this is a completely subjective set of criteria and it's simply my personal opinion, nothing more!

My deciding criteria consists of:

Personality- how is the character presented, what traits define them, how easy is it to identify the character, do they stand out compared to others?

Flaws/ Roundedness- what are the character's flaws? How do these interfere with/ hinder the character? Do they make the character feel more real?

Relatability- how relatable is the character? Can we empathize/ sympathize with them?

Consistency- is the character written consistently? Do they have any out-of-character moments, and if so are these plot-drive or convenience driven?

Development- does the character have an arc, do they learn anything/ change as a result (for better or worse)?

Each one will be marked out of 5, and the standard to qualify for well-written for me will be 15/25 (60%) (average 3/5 for all criteria). Not an easy one to please, am I?

View Part One here.

So let's see who will fare in TV SHOWS/ ANIME!

Korra (Legend of Korra)

Personality: 5/5

There's a reason I've used a character sheet of Korra for this blog series ;)

Korra is brash, brave, talented and more than willing to settle matters with her fists rather than her diplomacy. She tackles problems head on, isn't shy to voice her feelings, and isn't happy when things don't work out. She can be irrational and reckless, caring and kind, badass and vulnerable- she really is a brilliant, multi-faceted female protagonist, and you really don't see many of these at all. Whether you related to these traits or not, she'll definitely catch your attention.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 5/5

These form the foundations for the 4-book series, as we watch Korra grow into her role as the Avatar. In the first book she's woefully naive thanks to her sheltered upbringing, prefers to solve her problems head-on, and can't stand that she can't learn airbending as easily as the other elements. She's impatient, hot-headed, doesn't think before she leaps. This lands her into trouble at times, such as when she tries to confront book 1's major villain alone and finds herself at his utter mercy, or when her feelings for Mako intervene when he's already in a relationship with Asami. She also butts heads with her mentor, Tenzin. She's always been so good at what she's learnt before, the concept of finding a new skill difficult to learn (in this case airbending) doesn't sit well with her at all. This carries on into the second book, where she becomes more attuned to the spiritual side of her bending and the legacy she's inherited.

And the show does everything it can to show the consequences of Korra's flaws, and how she develops and learns to work around them. This is most notably in book 3/4 with her PTSD arc, and it's just a joy to watch her learn to heal herself and come to terms with the trauma she suffered.

Relatability: 4/5

Personally I don't find Korra that relatable- I'm more into the reserved aloof characters (if my previous posts didn't make that too obvious)- but I can see her appeals to others. Especially important is that she's loud and brash and arrogant; traits you don't often see in female characters, especially lead ones. She breaks a lot of media stereotypes, and while by the end of book 4 some people have criticised her development arc as 'taming her', I think in general Korra ends up very well rounded.

Consistency: 3/5

Korra is generally very consistent even despite her major developments. As I said above, while some fans dislike how she wasn't as aggressive or passionate as she was initially, I think it just reflects how she's learnt to use that side of her as the situation calls for, rather than all the time. A great example is when she threatens her enemy's fiance in book 4 in an effort to hurt them, which isn't something your 'noble hero' would usually contemplate.

There's also some discrenpency between books 1 and 2 (where the lessons learnt from book 1 seem to have been forgotten), but that was hard to avoid, given that the show was only meant to be 1 book initially and then got expanded. Another one fans like to point out are the ending scenes of book 4, which doesn't seem to gel as well as the ending to previous seasons, but aside from these, Korra doesn't usually step out of character throughout the series.

Development: 5/5

Korra practically defines this! Her arc over the four books, with the occasional blips, is magnificent and a shining example of how a character should be written, male or female. She comes to appreciate and master the aspects of herself she initially thought to be weak and inferior, she pushes herself above and beyond her limits, and when she's broken she slowly rebuilds her shattered self image and becomes something more. You really couldn't ask for more.

Total: 22/25 (88%)

Korra easily passes!

Lina Inverse (Slayers)

Personality: 4/5

Lina is a powerful sorceress who loves to run around chasing bounty hunters to fill her own pockets with other people's plundered riches. She's certainly no Robin Hood and is more looking out for herself than others, but when it comes to world-threatening evil she'll step up when she needs to. She has a ferocious temper (particularly if you comment on certain aspects of her physique) and bottomless appetite, and nothing much fazes her (apart from her sister, Luna). She's also very inuitative and can pick up on seemingly non-existent cues. She definitely leaves a strong impression and is an extremely memorable character.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 3/5

Lina has plenty of flaws that make for interesting viewing. She can be rude, obnoxious, unreasonably angry over seemingly trivial things (leading to plenty of 'outbursts' and extensive collateral damage), she's extremely competitive and takes insults far too personally. However most of this is played for comedic value, and while it does affect certain aspects of plot it doesn't usually get in the way of final battles.

Relatability: 3/5

Lina is a loveable rogue and I can't help but admire her fiery temper and proficient magic use for her own gain. She's not out for glory or helping others; she just wants enough cash for her next (super-sized) meal. She does empathise with some of her enemies, and can also see the cracks in those who others see as 'saintly'. She still falls prey to her own temper and greed, though, which shows she's not some perfect goddess.

Consistency: 4/5

Lina's pretty consistent. Her temper never changes and she still gets riled over things she really shouldn't. And despite destroying evil forces at least six times over, she's still only out for treasure for herself. She very rarely acts out of character.

Development: 3/5

Alas, since Lina is so consistent, it leaves little room for much development. While she does learn more about her own powers and what she's capable of, she doesn't change how she treats her friends, and she still acts and behaves much the same way as she did before. So she loses points here.

Total: 16/25 (64%)

And Lina scrapes by too!

Sokka (Avatar: The Last Airbender)

Personality: 4/5

Sokka is the only non-bender (can't use an element) in the main group, but that doesn't stop him being a sarcastic, witty and (eventually) competent soldier. He's always full of quips and one liners, and he's not too bad in combat, either. He can be stubborn and brash at times, but he's also under-confident in his abilities as well, making for an interesting internal conflict. He prefers science to mysticism, making him somewhat of a black sheep in his world, too.

Flaws/ Roundedness: 4/5

Sokka's main flaws come from his immaturity. He doesn't see girls/ women as his equals, he's pretty sceptical and closed minded, and can be quite abrasive even to his own team mates. He's also not very skilled (at least initially), but each of these traits gets addressed as the show progresses.

Relatability: 3/5

Sokka's sarcasm and jokes always brighten up the mood of the show, and being a non-bender means he can be easier to relate to than the other members of Team Avatar as he represents the viewer's point of view (in a way). He's also often a victim of his own actions and he'll usually get his just rewards. He also learns a lot from his mistakes and is willing to change, which isn't something you see very often.

Consistency: 4/5

Sokka is generally consistent, with his actions and behaviour developing slowly as the show goes on. His reactions to similar circumstances do change as his experiences widen, but that is more a reflection of his character arc than acting out of character.

Development: 4/5

Despite being a secondary character Sokka gets a full development arc. At first he's pretty immature, commenting about how girls can't be fighters, but he's rapidly proven wrong and he changes his attitudes as a result. After facing loss and failure, he re-evaluates his strategies and priorities and continues to move forward. By the end of the show he's matured into a strong, responsible leader but without losing his sense of humour and easy-going nature.

Total: 19/25 (76%)

So Sokka passes too!

So it seems the winning streak continues! In the fourth and final part of this series, I'll be looking into film characters. Can we make it a perfect score?

What do you look for in a well-written character, and who do you consider well-written? Tell me!

Don't forget to check Part One: Books!

And Part Two: Games!

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