Friday, July 18, 2008

The Gray Character

Here's a preview of the writing craft session I'm giving at the writers' retreat near White Point Beach tomorrow.

I'm looking at characters who show equal aspects of light and dark elements. They end up being very gray. And not very predictable, which is their biggest draw.

A hero, no matter how complex, is definitely recognizable as a shiny character. When the chips are down, this character will reveal himself as having a solid moral core. He will do what is necessary, do what is right, no matter what it may cost him.

The villain, no matter how sympathetic, will be recognizable as a dark soul. When push comes to shove, this character will stoop to incredible lows to get what he wants. It's all about him, and there's no room for anyone else as he squeezes through his rat hole to escape.

So what happens when a character reveals heroic qualities one moment, and dastardly qualities the next moment? Does he count as a dark hero? How about a tragic villain?

For my workshop, I'm taking a look at one of my favorite characters, Sir Guy of Gisborne from BBC's Robin Hood. Guy is presented to us as a villain. He terrorizes the peasants and acts as the enforcer for the Sheriff of Nottingham.

Is Guy prepared to lay down his life for the woman he loves? Definitely. That's kind of heroic, though, isn't it?

Do we feel for Guy when he's treated miserably by the Sheriff? Yes, we do. Do we normally feel bad for villains? Hmm...

Are we shocked when he taunts his enemy, Robin Hood, even when he's at Robin's mercy? Not really, no. Do we actually admire him for his bravado? To be honest, yes.

Are we surprised at the lengths he'll go to attain power? You'd have to be daft. So is Guy a villain? Or a dark sort of hero?

Isn't it heroic to stop the Sheriff's men from putting boys to death?

Why does Guy put up with so much abuse from the Sheriff? Is he a coward? Is he that desperate for power that he considers the Sheriff's treatment an acceptable price for his ambition? That's not terribly heroic.

Are we impressed by Guy's unshakeable loyalty to the Sheriff, even after everything he's had to endure? Yes. Not to mention confused. Heroes aren't generally confusing. Villains aren't, either. The Sheriff certainly doesn't behave in any other way than we expect him to. Nor does Robin.

Do we forgive Guy his horrible behaviour because he's sexy?


I leave you with some clips from Season 2 of Robin Hood. I'll let you know all about the retreat when I get back. Ciao!


Wylie Kinson said...

Enjoy your retreat, Julia! Your presentation topic sounds fascinating (and the visuals are YUMMY!)

Thomma Lyn said...

Have a wonderful time at the Writers' Retreat, Julia! And like you, I love gray characters -- dark heroes, tragic villains.

I look forward to hearing about the retreat when you get back!