Saturday, 8 October 2016

How much can they take?

One of the reasons for the slight slip up in posting here has been the resumption of the rugby season. I'm not quite as addicted as when it would account for three gym sessions, three games watched, one game played and one training session very badly delivered a week, but it does fill up time.

My first game was a couple of weeks back now - late in the year due to a lot of cry offs on friendlies - and I went off injured. Nothing serious; just a thigh strain. I'd tried running around on it a bit but found that running wasn't really a good description for what happened. It implies speed. I had the speed of a 12 hour filibuster speech.

I wasn't the most spectacular injury that day mind. A friend of mine had his shoulder pop right out - lovely! It popped back in and then, after a break in play and some 'medical' treatment, he tried to keep on playing.

Let us be clear here. This is a completely amateur team, playing 2s fairly deep down the Kent merit tables. Literally nothing was on the line here other than a bit of pride and an enjoyable Saturday afternoon. And he, a mid-thirties guy with a desk job, decided that the obvious thing to do with a dislocated shoulder was keep playing rugby. There's lots of tales about professional sportsmen doing absurd things while heavily injured, but those are people in at the peak of athletic potential with huge amounts of motivation. Not slightly flabby blokes having a laugh with their mates. Of course, being the latter helps account for why he came off, but its still a bit ridiculous.

Ridiculous and its synonyms are words I often hear trotted out on forums when readers are discussing character actions. In SFF, we often write about big damn heroes, who go around doing big damn heroic things. They're right on the edge of human potential and sometimes a little beyond. Sometimes they're a lot beyond. People get surprisingly argumentative about what is physically possible and what is not. They get even more argumentative about what's in line with the previously established physical limits of a character.

And it gets yet worse when talking about the mental limits of a character. Part of what adds to reader discontentment here is that very often, people seek to conflate other people's mental limits with their own. 'I would have seen that trap, so why didn't she?' 'I wouldn't complain about that, so why is he whining?' 'She's smart, and I'm smart, ergo she definitely should have that trap!'

The obvious way of avoiding this sort of negative reaction is consistency. You'll never win over all the readers, but if your characters always react in the same way, then there's no inconsistency to complain of. There's many problems with this though. If a character always acts the same, how is he meant to grow? How do we prevent them from being boring? Perhaps most crucially, how do we prevent them from being unrealistic? Humans are by nature inconsistent. The same person who might struggle to to write one simple email without bursting into tears might the next day be a hero. An utterly fearless warrior can turn into a panicking wreck if forced to swim. Readers know this and accept this, until all of a sudden it doesn't fit their own personal parameters.

Ultimately, this is a blog post without an answer. Consistency is obviously still key, but we have to build consistency for lots and lots of little subroutines and that's pretty hard, particularly if you were planning to tell a story at some point. Part of its simply finding the readers who think like you and accept your logic for how characters work and what they can do. Everybody's heard the doctors talk about the likely effects of James Bond's described drinking habits. James Bond fans don't care. 

Nevertheless, its worth considering. Authors that don't fulfil reader expectations rarely achieve their goals. And human capability for well, anything, has a way of confounding reader expectations. One of my favourite stories related by an author is how Hollywood passed up on a script about a Colombian drug cartel trying to buy a Russian submarine because it was too unrealistic. I mean, this is Hollywood here. And, as some of you may know, this actually happened. No matter how many dragons and wizards we write about, passing off what occurs in reality as realistic will always be one of our biggest troubles.

p.s. A coda. The events described at the start took place in Game One. Game Two, I slam the back of my head very hard onto the ground. Not a concussion, but it still took me a long time to get up (more rain please Thor). Probably even longer to want to get up. I see out the rest of the game, somewhat against my better judgement. 

Game Three is today (in fact, I should be there as we speak) and I clearly did something right as I'm starting. Honesty compels me to admit I really don't want to be as I'm quite unfit at present (not that I'd ever be that honest if any of my rugby team read this). I have no idea how I'll cope. Maybe I'll go off blowing early. Maybe I'll somehow do eighty - after all, fitness isn't just the ability to do something without pain, its the ability to do something while accepting the pain.

Humans are very inconsistent. Perhaps that's why we're so much fun to write about.

1 comment: