Bring back the demons!

I like dark in my heroes. Or some mystery. I always preferred Strider to Aragorn because here way a guy that came riding in dramatically for nowhere to save the day, and the hobbits didn’t know who the hell he was, or even if he was a good guy at first. And at the end when he got all kingy he wasn’t even very interesting any more. But for a long long time in fantasyland the heroes didn’t really have flaws. That was what made Angel and Spike and Cole in Charmed such great characters. Nothing like a bit of demon to spice up the mix.
However, darkness diminishes, and soon demons dwindle to metaphors, and metaphors turn into clichés. When I read a lot of today’s fantasy, it’s so ordinary and same-y I just want to sigh. The same goes, to some extent, to the thriller genre. This has at least made flawed heroes a specialty for a long time. But even the flaws are clichés, and they don’t make the detectives interesting, they make them miserable.
Thus, a fictional character can’t take a drink without being an alcoholic who either goes on extended benders or is trying to give up. (Way to go, AA!) Can’t smoke — has to be going through hell and nicotine patches. Can’t be in a happy relationship — there’s got to be a break-up, a bitter divorce, or a custody battle over who gets the kids (or the dog). Oh, and I mustn’t forget the brilliant investigators who don’t have any social skills.
What all these flaws don’t achieve is any depth of character. They are a mark of lazy writing (IMHO!). You might just as well call them The Alky, Bad Break-up, or the Cigarette-Smoking Man (oh yeah, that’s been done). Well-rounded characters have more than one thing that defines them.
Yeah, I know this is a generalization, and a pretty sweeping one at that. But it is a common problem, and one that I try very hard not to avoid. You can make a character memorable by giving him just one noticeable quirk, but that won’t work with major players in your world.
Anyway, when I found myself writing (or chaneling, who knows!) about Captain da Silva, a good deal of who he was and what he was about arrived wholesale, as it were. He doesn’t have any of the kinds of hangups I mentioned earlier. He smokes and he enjoys a drink, and he is still very much in love with his wife and she with him. But he does have demons, and they are both real and metaphorical. He ran away to sea at age fourteen to escape his religious fanatic of a mother. He spent a very long time working for a very bad man because he killed a would-be rapist and yet was unable to kill the worse man in cold blood. He hasn’t yet revealed a lot of the things he had to do as that man’s henchman, but he’s still a dangerous person, likely to hit first and ask questions later. What redeems him, apart from the fact that now he is a force for good in the world? His sense of humor, his honesty, his loyalty to family, friends and crew. He has a lot of darkness in him, but mostly it makes him stronger.
And the real demons? They’re afraid of him.

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