Monday, July 19, 2010

Protecting/Defending Innocence

There's a fun discussion about one of my favorite series going on right now, and in this one, several people brought up something that was bothering them: one character seems to be going out of his way to protect the other character's innocence, even to the extent of not wanting the poor kid to learn how to protect himself (by hurting/maiming/killing other people).  This seems very two-dimensional to the readers, like it's turning the protected into some sort of lesser person.

(NOTE: The referenced discussion only covers up to the first third of the work in question; I've read the whole thing, which might color some of what I think.  Also, if you're a Princess Bride fan, you should definitely check out the rather hilarious references that pop up in the discussion, especially if you've read Banana Fish.)

It's true I'm pretty generous with characters.  I work hard so authors don't have to.  It is very difficult to make me believe your characer is two-dimensional; I will do all sorts of extra work in the background to flesh out that character unless you go above and beyond. That said, I don't really think this character is two-dimensional at all.  Out of his depth?  Totally.  Frustrated and helpless and conflicted and protected?  Yeah.  Unrealistically simple?  Not really.

One of the ideas I was getting from the discussion is one that I've encountered before, the one that says it's wrong to protect someone because it's the same as reducing them somehow.  I think that idea comes from the way we protect children from as much reality as we can.  Kids hate that as they grow older; it makes them mad.  I think that anger's still sort of fresh in the minds of disillusioned young adults, especially ones who were raised by people who denied them reality and the chance to face it in a more controlled environment.  I don't think that every attempt to protect someone else's innocence is necessarily like saying you think they're a child.

I'm totally willing to buy that one young adult male might really respect and cherish another young adult male's relative innocence without that reducing the one being cherished and protected.  And of course there's a risk of transforming the one you cherish into an object on a pedestal, a thing that must be protected rather than a person, but I don't feel like that's really happening in this story.

[ASIDE: There's another character who is really irritated by that same character's innocence at least partly because it represents everything he never had (peace, a loving family, a life of relative ease, etc.).  I suppose you could say he's two-dimensional because you can infer all that quite easily (more because the author is skilled than because it's blatantly spelled out).  I don't think that being able to figure out part of what motivates someone renders them less-complex, whether they are fictional or non-fictional.]

Another more recent pop-culture example I've been considering is from the TV show Chuck.  Chuck ends up with a head full of government secrets and all kinds of danger his nearly-completed engineering degree and several years in retail hell have really not prepared him for.  He is kind of goofy and adorable, and he has a huge heart and is a good guy.  People like him, even spies.  They like his innocence and his willingness to trust and his desire to do the right thing.  And they don't want him to change.  They are there to protect him from the bad guys, but at least one of them is also interested in protecting him from becoming just another spy.  And one of the bad guys is even very concerned that he'll turn into just another jaded public servant putting his rights and freedom on the line every day to protect the rights and freedoms of others.

(Apparently, in season three when he comes into some special skills, he starts acting like just another spy.  The more cognizant viewers saw what the writers were trying to do; the less-cognizant just got mad because Chuck wasn't good-ole' sit-com Chuck anymore.  And while the show has always had a healthy lot of comedy, it's never been a sit-com because the characters are in flux and changing as they go, you know, like people.  People don't always make the right choices; sometimes they choose very poorly, and we have to watch them live with the consequences (and often share those consequences with us).  That doesn't make them less realistic.  Perhaps it makes them more realistic and thus less funny.  :)  And we wouldn't want any reality in our science fiction because it's all just supposed to be brainless genre-fluff anyway, right?  Riiiiiight . . . )

Anyway, do you have any thoughts on protecting someone's innocence and/or what makes a character two-dimensional for you?

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