On Twitter a friend complained about writers new to a franchise ruining existing characters rather than creating their own bad characters. I pointed out that this is like 90% less work. Writers who are moved by writing, rather than by their subject, tend to be like electricity: they take the path that requires the least work to go down.
In both cases, because they’re running away, not toward, anything.
In the case of electricity, electricity is the phenomenon of electrons, having the same charge, repulsing each other, and finding paths to get away from each other. It’s not strictly true that they never go towards anything, of course; there are areas of positive charge which attract them, such as the positive terminal on a battery. Of course, it’s not strictly true that writers who write only for the sake of writing have things which attract them, too, such as sex scenes and main characters making foolish choices.
That said, electrons flow when you have an excess of them and they need to relieve the pressure. If you connect an excess of electrons to the ground, which is neutrally charged, they’ll go there. Writers to write only for the sake of writing are also trying to get away from something—usually themselves, as they tend to describe it. These sorts of authors will happily ruin things if it allows them to write. They don’t really care so long as they have their temporary escape. Thus they will frequently be pulled to ruining the works of others because it is an easier way to do what they want to do.
Good books are written by authors who love their subject, and who write because they love the subject so much it moves them to write. The love of their subject matter will make them willing to do difficult things in order to write about it, because they are pulled towards it.
Writers who write only for the sake of writing will tend to be very good at the technical elements of the craft—things like mood, setting, physical descriptions, the vivid drawing of emotions, etc. What they are usually bad at is the heart of the thing—the plot, characters worth reading about, etc. Any fool can create drama about people who have something to lose making bad decisions. It takes quite a bit more skill to create drama about people who have something to lose making good decisions. This is especially true when the decisions aren’t simple. Hence why it’s so uncommon for authors to write about healthy marriages between wise people. If you’ve ever had the pleasure to meet such people in real life, they’re a thousand times more interesting than fools in a bad marriage. This is just the same as how a really skilled basketball player throwing a nothing-but-net three pointer from the half-court line is a thousand times more interesting than watching someone who can barely dribble miss the backboard from five feet away. (And I don’t watch basketball!) In short, there’s a reason why in sports we pay people who are good at them to be good at them so we can watch. The same is true of things like romance. The problem is that while an author can easily give a character physical skills that he doesn’t, himself, possess, he cannot give them wisdom that he doesn’t, himself, possess.
This is why fools write such bad virtuous characters. Not knowing what virtue is, they suppose it to be only the absence of temptation. They write characters who get along because they don’t want anything, rather than characters who can generously negotiate with each other to do their best to get everyone what they want.
Since these writers (most of whom suffer from impostor syndrome) spend all their lives in the constant fear that they will be caught, the only drama they can conceive of is the fear of getting caught—the fear of not escaping the consequences of one’s bad choices. They’ve never tried to do anything out of love, so they don’t know that there is drama in trying to accomplish something that one can do—because it will affect others if one fails.
In short, bad writers write bad books out of the store of badness in their hearts. It’s just a special case of the more general rule about how one comes out of one’s heart is what’s in one’s heart.
We just notice, here, because this kind of bad writer writes bad books so well.
8 thoughts on “The Path of Least Resistance”
Worst when they try to put in sages.
when putting in a sage character, rip off a known sage in the real world. Many fictional sages would be improved by writers having picked up Marcus Aurelius’s *Mediations*. (Which, BTW, I once saw advertised as a *Gladiator* tie-in.)
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Oh my, yes. I’ve seen “sages” that give the worst possible advice…
A really good rule of thumb is “if your sage’s advice could be the advertising slogan of a credit card company, try again.”
Then, of course, there’s this:
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That’s quite amusing.
I also note that it’s perfectly possible to ruin characters you care passionately about. Witness fanfic.
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Fanfic is such a strange thing in so many ways. So much of it is really astonishingly bad. I remember, several decades ago when I was in high school a friend who wrote Star Wars fan fiction in which he featured as a character and randomly received the quickening (from Highlander) while he was fighting Emperor Palpatine. Even all these years later, I occasionally wonder what the point of it was…