I’m sure a lot of us have a favorite character from some place… could be a book, TV show, or film or anything. We root for that character, follow that character on physical and emotional journeys.
So when they suffer, we hurt.
It’s not so much that we put our characters through hell just to get readers to care. What I want to write about is how to do it and why portraying vulnerability is good for characterization.
For some reason, one of my favorite scenes from Iron Man 3 is when Tony Stark (RDJ–everyone knows that) has his anxiety attacks. There’s a good reason for it; I’ll explain my version of it.
*Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen these films*
In The Avengers, Tony is the one to take the missile shot at New York all the way up the wormhole(?) and have it hit the alien mothership. We see Tony marvel at the space all around him, the giant ship of aliens they most likely wouldn’t have been able to beat.
To me, I believe that Tony felt this invasion would have been the end of his world. Not just this world–his world (that failed phone call to Pepper almost made me cry). Yes, he’d vowed to protect the planet as best he could, but it seems to me he had met his match. It truly shocked him to his core.
And it haunts him in Iron Man 3. He’s making more suits. He no longer feels safe. He feels exposed and small.
I believe Robert played these scenes so well… the redness in his face… the tightening in his throat and the breathlessness. Tony is feeling very vulnerable in Iron Man 3, and I believe it is this feeling he carries with him in Age of Ultron (trying too hard and ends up making an enemy) and Captain America: Civil War (where everyone needs to be kept in-check could mean too much government interference).
But back to characterization….
The reason I’m thinking about vulnerability is that I’m working on my sequel to The Page. Without spoiling too much, I believe the conflicts faced in the first book are more… physical. The goal is to find and rescue the princess (though it is more complicated than that). It requires some brain work, and any fighting is on physical and magical scales.
So what about the sequel? What problems can the characters have there?
any sequel should not try to top the first film. “[It should be] smaller. More personal. More painful. By being the next thing that should happen to these characters, and not just a rehash of what seemed to work the first time. By having a theme that is completely fresh and organic to itself.”
And I find this to be true of Age of Ultron. Because Tony’s my fave (after Spider-Man), I mostly focused on his fears and doubts… why he goes so overboard trying to do the right thing…. and it’s something I want to try and do with my sequel, to some extent.
Because, really, if you’ve already attacked the body, all that’s left is the heart and mind.
While there are external forces at play, I want the sequel to The Page to get a little more personal… the battles more internal. As antagonizing forces grow stronger, my heroes are actually feeling weaker. My heroes learned of their weaknesses in the first book, and now they’re scrambling to pull a Rocky training montage before it’s too late.
All three of my leading characters are looking to grow stronger… physically, magically, mentally, and especially emotionally.
I don’t want to just throw problems at my characters for the sake of drama. You can’t do that. If you know your character inside and out, then all you need to do is help pull them through all the mud and the muck you just tossed them in.
Like any human in a weak moment, it will take time to find the strength to get through it. Their rise can’t be rushed, it can’t be perfect or remotely easy. If it hurts in real life, it should hurt in fictional ones too.
I don’t know how else to explain it. We see it in film all the time. My best example was Iron Man 3. Iron Man is a hero, but Tony Stark is just human. He is supposed to be human through-and-through, and we got to see that.
After all, we write fiction like it’s supposed to be real.
Thank you for your time.