Saturday, April 25, 2009


As promised yesterday, for the final day of Anti-Hero week, instead of digging up another famous anti-hero (a shame, too--I had a lot of good things to say about Enemy Ace) I thought I'd look at what growing up with and absorbing the lessons of all this anti-hero jazz had wrought on my writing.

As I hate talking about myself in any way that might intimate that what I do is important, I apologise for it right at the top here and promise we'll be right back to familiar territory next time.

Right, so, I've talked about GUNMETAL BLACK before--in terms of plot structure, at any rate--back when I talked about Myth Arcs a while back, but it's worth getting into the nitty gritty of it a little morseo. I'd just spent four years working on the first draft of the other big story and something about coming off that at the same time I was going through some stuff, and was more than a little angry.

I wanted to do something different, and something with more of an edge. Paradoxically, I didn't want to go too far--if comics have taught me anything, the "more is more" approach to sex and violence aspires to demonstrate how "grown up" the author is the exactly the kind of thing I never need to see again in my short life on this planet. Being a fan of film nor (actual film noir, not whatever goes on in Frank Miller's jerkoff fantasies) I knew you could achieve a certain tone without needing a whole bunch of allegedly shocking stuff.

Think of it like the tone of your voice--how something is said informs on something as much as the text and can add colour to things.

So, I had a tone, now all I needed was a character. In the embryonic stages, GUNMETAL BLACK'S lead character, Kienan Ademetria, owed a lot to the first three characters I mentioned at the beginning of the week--at first he was a hyper-competent assassin in the mold of Hunter Rose and Diabolik, but that soon fell away, because it seemed to me, a hyper-competent master assassin/thief has little more than one story to tell, and that's That One Time He Fails (Being that both are long-lived characters, clearly this is a failure of vision on my part) Once those fell off, I was left with something more in the vein of Golgo 13.

Which is fine, of course--How Does (Or Doesn't) He Pull It Off is a rich storytelling engine and one you can pretty much fire off at will--heist films use it all the time, right? But as I was planning a big Myth Arc, I would need a little more than the episodic to keep it going. There needed to be a more personal edge to it.

To be somewhat contrary, I portrayed my lead character as completely non-communicative, and yet, we dwell a lot in his personal life. It seemed like a worthwhile challenge to try and write something where a lot f character beats were left unspoken (OK, not that hard--some TV shows do it all the time, but here I'm talking in the sense of "leaving them unspoken by the characters, yet fully comprehensible and deeply felt.")

So I had the idea for a extraordinarily gifted assassin who, in between spectacular capers, leads a very stark and lonely life, and over the course of the Myth Arc he might be able to come back to himself and, if not reform, be able to break through as isolation so heavy as to be lethal.

That's how I saw it.

Authors who have paid homage to it or done straight fanfic, not so much. The surface allure of being an anti-hero, of being able to thumb your nose at The Man and be rewarded for it is a romantic idea and a hella powerful one. Not just in my story--in all stories, in all media. Whether its the Corleones or whatever street tug cut a rap album and made good this week--it's so ingrained in the collective unconscious it's sub-meme at this point.

In short, people like it, and that's fine. Unless it's just the surface element of what you're doing, and then, it will slowly drive you insane.

But never mind all that---hopefully in this long and rambling diatribe I've walked you through how the anti-heroes who caught my interest in my youth informed on my creation of an anti-hero of my own later on.

If not, then I probably need to make these things more planned out and less rambling.


C. Elam said...

As we've discussed in the past, I think there is a tendency among a lot of people to equate "protaginist" with "hero". They're not necessarily synomous. Call it an absence of critical reading (and thinking) or another larger lack of vision, but people feel the need to root for the main guy. Even if he's not very nice.

It's a complex situation, and I'm acutely aware of it, having your character running around in an unlikely scenario for him. It's why I'm glad I was able to get your input, as I hit close to the mark maybe one try out of every ten. Your vision was invaluable.

Kazekage said...

Well, I kinda wanted to play with that a bit when I started GMB--could I make a story about a guy who, even before you get to the evil stuff he does, isn't necessarily sympathetic, could I get an audience to follow him, especially if I never promise to redeem him? The stuff about him having a weird gestalt of Superman and Batman's origins was totally accidental. :)

I think it just about works the way we did it--it wouldn't have lasted much longer than it did, but I think it just about gets it done. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I think the key to writing a well-rounded anti-hero or Villain Protagonist is to have some kind of mitigating system in place that doesn't cancel out the character's amoral/immoral actions, but prevents the reader from being completely unsympathetic. Showtime's "Dexter" is an interesting example: he's a serial killer who has no qualms about manipulating the people around him to stay in the clear, but he also preys exclusively on murderers. And, of course, the tiniest bit of humanity occasionally shines through his sociopathy. You find yourself cheering him on despite being unnerved (at best) by what he does.

Kazekage said...

There are a couple ways, I think. "The Sopranos" tended to make the violence the character did a manifestation of his own inner anger, so while it was ghastly and over the top, since you'd followed the process as an audience member, it seemed to be more . . .comprehensible isn't the word I'm looking for but close enough.

I think my approach may fall into the "Dexter" category now that you mention. GMB's lead character ends up being the protagonist mainly because 90% of the other characters are worse.

I wonder if TV tropes has a law of comparative evil?

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

I always thought Tony Soprano was a dreadfully flat character, but then, I only followed about half of the first season of that show. ;)

It's a mutation, I think, of the classic anti-hero formula: whatever the personality defects and flaws of the protagonist, the world around him is so fundamentally broken that any action he takes against it will, by default, earn the sympathy of the reader.

It has everything else, why not that? ;)

Kazekage said...

Actually, the first season set the tone for his character--random moments of insightful character development (inevitably coming when you are just about to give up on the damn show) coupled with the most self-indulgent decompression this side of the Jemas era.

That makes a certain amount of sense. The challenge, I find, is how do you make it interesting and not just Miller-esque "let's wallow in awfulness like a pig in slop."

I'm gonna go look now. Surely someone's thought of it before me. :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Sounds dreadful, though I understand it improved considerably in later seasons.

I think it has to do with a basic balance in terms of characterization: even a Crapsack World has to have some redeeming factor (ie: you could, at least initially, find basically good people in Miller's Sin City). If your only point is that all people suck and the world is a cesspool, well, you get ASSBAR.

Well? What's the result? :)

Kazekage said...

Actually, it got even more bloated and enervating. It would have been best for all concerned had the show finished with the second series because they did everything possible to drag everything out as long as possible.

Very true--in fact, if you have a cast of bastards, sometimes slanting them against characters who are basically good can provoke a lot of very useful conflict in both groups of characters. It's a useful arrow in the quiver, I find.

Couldn't find anything, but that could owe to TvTropes rather clumsy search function as much as an actual lack of the term of art.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

Given the show's propensity for annihilating its cast members one at a time, I'm still shocked it lasted as long as it did.

And there are all sorts of tricks you can play with that format: for example, "Erfworld" seems to have the traditional Rebel Alliance versus Evil Overlord set-up, but your protagonist (generally a nice guy) is leading the "Evil" faction, who aren't really that evil, and the Alliance leader turns out to be kind of a douche...

Does this work?

Kazekage said...

Trust me--it wasn't as exciting as it seemed. It was so decompressed its season sets are measured in epochs.

Yeah--it gives you the freedom to slide some conventions around and generally play with the usual good/evil dynamic and audience expectations of same.

Like gangbusters! :)

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

And like we've said, we've become so familiar with the basic tropes that it's just not enough to follow conventions anymore. There's no satisfaction in seeing a story unfold exactly the way you figured it would.

Kazekage said...

Well, counterrevolutions always follow revolutions, don't they? The trope gets established, and is then subverted in reaction to our familiarity with it, and the reaction itself eventually becomes a trope and is reacted to and played against and so forth and so on . . .it's just how stories (and thinking about stories) evolves over time.

Diana Kingston-Gabai said...

But do we ever really see a restoration of the original trope following the codification of its subversion? Nothing comes to mind at the moment...

Kazekage said...

I don't know as we ever do in as much as the trope recombines with the reactive element and becomes a new trope. A bit like an ever-evolving strain of virus. :)