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Darzian
10-06-2008, 04:15 PM
How far would you respect a cowardly character, whose cowardice makes sense?

Eg. If Harry had chosen to flee to another country and not try to fight Voldy (In Harry Potter)

OR If Frodo had given up on the ring because the odds were certainly not in his favour and he was terrified of being caught by the Nazgul/Sauron.

OR if the children in Narnia had abandoned the quest due to fear of the White Witch.

I'm intending to write something like that. The MC tries to sneak away due to fear of an overly-powerful villain, but at the last minute of his sneak away plan, he comes face to face with the villain and has to fight him.

How would you respect such characters? Would you find them disappointing or would you even wish them dead?

Mad Queen
10-06-2008, 04:39 PM
Yes, I'd respect them and understand their decision.

willfulone
10-06-2008, 04:51 PM
If you have enough bits in there to make me feel enough empathy for his cowardice, his personality and the reason WHY he is a coward, I will not be upset. But, he would have to be strong in other ways throughout to make me keep reading. If he is just a weak character without anything redeeming, well I don't want to read so much. Although, your post does not indicate he is a total whimp, so I will assume it is the type I prefer (he has other qualities to redeem this one issue).

Good luck!

Christine

Barb D
10-06-2008, 05:02 PM
Here you go: The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane, free and online.

http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/redbadge/

It's about a US Civil War soldier who chooses to run rather than fight, but eventually redeems himself.


Warning: The only reason I've read this is that my daughter chose to take a failing grade rather than read it in middle school because it was SOOOO boring. I then read it so that I could quiz her and make sure SHE read it. (She still got the failing grade, and deserved it, but at least didn't reap the "rewards" of it.) You might do well enough with just the Sparks Notes. :)

JimmyB27
10-06-2008, 06:20 PM
You don't have to respect the character, imho. Take my current favourite anti-hero - Harry Flashman from George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman series. He's an absolute coward who, nevertheless, manages to become a highly decorated war hero. He never redeems himself, and only gets his hero status because he's usually the only survivor (because he ran away ;)).
I can't recommend the Flashman series enough, especially if you want to see how to do a good cowardly character.

Darzian
10-06-2008, 06:34 PM
Interesting. Keep them coming.

tehuti88
10-06-2008, 06:39 PM
I know all about fear. I'd sympathize with them.

Granted, they have to have some kind of confrontation with their fears sometime to make the story interesting and give it some kind of point. If the story was all about somebody running away from conflict, it (usually) wouldn't make for a very good story, even if real life is often like this.

But you say that your character is forced to face his fears, so that's not a problem. IMO, reluctant protagonists are a lot more believable and easier for me to sympathize with, because I've been there and I understand that, PLUS, I wish I could face down my fears, myself. I'd admire them doing that, even if they're forced into it.

ink wench
10-06-2008, 06:45 PM
There's a fine line between bravery and stupidity. :D One of my biggest peeves (especially in fantasy) is a character who decides to fight even though s/he should know they have no chance in hell of defeating the bad guy. Of course, the stupid/reckless good guy will win, too, because it's fiction. I struggle with all my protagonists to give them solid reasons why they would fight instead of flee, so it would make perfect sense to me that some characters don't have a compelling reason to fight. So long as the character's relatable, cool.

melaniehoo
10-06-2008, 06:45 PM
I'm having this same debate with my current wip. My MC eventually faces his fears, but I worry he doesn't do it soon enough. I give plenty of reasons why he's afraid and he does face smaller things throughout the story, but the big confrontation doesn't happen until the very end.

Darzian
10-06-2008, 07:07 PM
The interesting part in my WIP is that the revelation that he would most likely have to face the enemy only comes halfway through the book, so there's only a little more time for the actual ending.

The govt wants to use him as a secret weapon due to his special abilities. He doesn't want to go up against a guy who's thousands of years old.

Thump
10-06-2008, 07:11 PM
I'm thinking of Rodney McKay from Stargate Atlantis. He's a coward most of the time but you can't help but love him. He does the right thing when he has to though and somewhere in there there's more courage than he realizes.

Maybe hint at his potential and then when your MC does find himself with no choice to fight, he fully becomes the hero and then your readers will be all proud.

veinglory
10-06-2008, 07:16 PM
If you would call it 'cowardice' I suspect the reader would not accept it. The hero does not need to sacrifice their life immediately and pointlessly--and living to fight another day need not be labelled cowardice.

Nakhlasmoke
10-06-2008, 07:18 PM
One of the writers on this board, Gray Rose, wrote an excellent "cowardly" character. He's actually far from cowardly but he believes he is, because he is unable to take action that would involve grand sacrifice.

I think one of the reasons he appealed to me so much is because he was believable - we're not all of us warrior-types and the little things he does are so much more heroic because he doesn't realise that these acts too are his own little moments of heroism.

Probably not quite a helpful answer, but yes, you can make a cowardly character sympathetic, hold the reader's respect. It's in how you write it - how you make us feel for the character, how you make us see ourselves in them.

melaniehoo
10-06-2008, 07:37 PM
One of the writers on this board, Gray Rose, wrote an excellent "cowardly" character. He's actually far from cowardly but he believes he is, because he is unable to take action that would involve grand sacrifice.

I think one of the reasons he appealed to me so much is because he was believable - we're not all of us warrior-types and the little things he does are so much more heroic because he doesn't realise that these acts too are his own little moments of heroism.

Probably not quite a helpful answer, but yes, you can make a cowardly character sympathetic, hold the reader's respect. It's in how you write it - how you make us feel for the character, how you make us see ourselves in them.

I think that's a very good point. :)

Darzian
10-06-2008, 07:48 PM
I do find some characters highly unbelievable. eg, in Harry Potter 5, Harry is ready to go running to save a character, in spite of the evil overlord being there. Does he have a chance? Not really. Where's the sense in what he did?
But then again, many books are like that. ;)

(I'm a big HP fan BTW)

Madison
10-06-2008, 10:50 PM
Hamlet...

Stlight
10-07-2008, 07:42 AM
Sometimes not doing what appears to be the brave thing is the truly brave thing. You'd need to explain the reasons.

You might check out Robert Asprin's myth series. The hero is always trying to do the reasonable 'cowardly' thing and keeps getting thrown into the thick of things. Flashman, series, yes, but in Asprin's the hero is a good guy, Flashman is not. If you didn't know Flashman is the man who was the boy that tortured freshman in the Tom Brown books.
Okay, he's disgusting, his situtations are impossible, taken from real life they were impossible, but he's funny and terrible...
S

katiemac
10-07-2008, 07:45 AM
I was reminded of this thread when I watched 'Chuck' earlier this evening. The MC's first instinct is always to run, but does the brave thing when it conflicts with what he considers important.

TheIT
10-08-2008, 12:36 AM
Rincewind from Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic are good examples. He's also MC in several other books. Rincewind is a self-professed coward but keeps landing in situations where he needs to save the world.

hammerklavier
10-08-2008, 05:49 PM
No, I wouldn't empathize with them at all, books about normal people who act in predictable ways are not interesting. However, I would be interested if the MC either A) changed his mind at the end out of either shame or some larger than self reason or B) was a scoundrel like Professor Gilderoy Lockhart who actually got roped into fighting.