Tuesday, February 8, 2011

You Can't Do That!

Imagination. Writers are required to utilize it, to bring a unique spin on familiar themes. But what happens when readers, who heretofore demanded originality, cry, "You can't do that!"?

I'm not referring to obvious situations where an action results in a specific reaction. For example, if an ordinary person is shot, he or she will bleed. Now if the person has preternatural abilities then the game plan can change.

What I'm talking about are certain characters, particularly supernatural ones, whose actions have become defined by a set of unwritten rules.

Take the vampire for example. He or she is repelled by garlic, shuns holy water and crosses, turns into dust in sunlight, and is generally evil. A simple basic formula every writer crafting a vampire story should adhere to, right?

Um, yeah. Whatever. If that's true, then how does Miyu, the titular vampire from Narumi Kakinouchi's manga and anime Vampire Princess Miyu, move through the human world with ease? Holy water and crosses have no effect on her. She walks in daylight without fear.

Hellsing's Alucard uses bullets made from the silver of a melted cross. Unlike Miyu, however, he prefers the night. But his agenda is different from hers. He hunts other vampires. Miyu targets Shinma, god-demons who escaped when the gate between their world and the human one was opened.

Angels also seem to be forced into certain roles. Here the rules imply holy angels must always be good. Demons and fallen angels must always be evil.

Why? What purpose does it serve to pigeonhole these characters? If your vampire wants to work on the side of justice (Angel, Nick Knight) then let him or her. If your demon desires to fight evil, why say no? If he has free will then it would seem an individual choice. For that matter, why can't a holy angel become corrupted with power?

When we restrict our characters, we essentially shut off that part of ourselves which probably inspired us to write in the first place. We lose that ability to wonder "What if?"

Remember, you're the writer. These are your stories. Just because someone says your character can't do something, doesn't mean they're right. Challenge their preconceived notions. Give them something different.


Rayne said...

Thanks for posting this, Pam, and thanks for making me think. :-)

I believe it's important that there's *something* to limit/reduce/threaten/endanger the supernatural character - otherwise they're all powerful which makes the story boring.

The limitations don't necessarily have to be the established ones. As a reader, I enjoy it if the rulers are different from the standard stuff (e.g. if vampires can smell garlic and touch a crucifix, but weaken on eating curry sauce and die if sprinkled with vinegar). However, it's important that these rules are spelled out. I need to know that in this book, vampires are holy-water-resistant and vinegar-sensitive, before I get to the scene where the vampire hunter applies her vinegar spray.

What are the traditional limitations for angels? Are there any? (I admit I haven't read many angel books). Did you choose the give our angels the conventional limitations, or did you invent something fresh?


PamelaTurner said...

Hi Rayne,

I forgot to mention about creating certain rules in your writing universe. Thanks for pointing that out.

Vampires reacting against curry sauce. Ha! Love it. :-)

You're right, though. An antagonist who's unbeatable isn't a challenge. Neither is a hero who easily overcomes every obstacle.

As for limitations regarding angels, I suppose it depends on the writer and the particular mythos, whether Judeo-Christian or Islamic, for example. What I try to do is create an angel who is familiar to readers then give my unique take on it. For example, the Ophanim are said to be the angels of justice who carry out God's orders. In my current WIP, my MC is an Ophanim who has become a vigilante and uses his preternatural powers to attack the bad guys (for lack of a better description). Despite his holy status, he's not concerned with such things, preferring to deal with the mundane. (Of course, that doesn't last.) :-)

She said...

It's the author's work and thoughts going into a book. I'm only there for the ride. As long as you set your rules and follow them I don't care where you take me.

Deb Sanders said...

Great, thought provoking blog. My WIP is twisting up the angel slant a bit. I didn't know how well it would be received but you've encouraged me to keep going.