Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Neurotic isn't Psychotic

Years ago my daughter wrote her first novel during the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an annual novel writing project held in November. She was thirteen or fourteen at the time. She was proud, and rightly so. Not many people write the novel they have floating around in their heads (and that's probably a good thing). Just finishing a novel is a great accomplishment.
I read her novel and had one major complaint - her heroine was psychotic. When I told her that (as nicely as I could), I think I crushed her spirit. This wouldn't be the first time I crushed the spirit of an aspiring author - I did the same sort of thing to my youngest brother a decade ago. I don't mean to do this. They both write well, and I enjoy much of the prose they put on paper. I just see flaws - and for the first things that a young writer puts to paper, that is simply a reality. Expect the flaws and keep writing.
I was wrong about my daughter's heroine, though. Psychotic characters have disconnects with reality and hallucinations. My daughter's heroine was neurotic, where the person is fully capable, but plagued by various physical and mental disturbances. Apparently heroes and heroines have to be neurotic for the book to be a best-seller.
Of course, I'm referring to the currently popular Hunger Games. When Darling and I read the books we concluded that Katniss was certainly a neurotic main character, but the author made it work, and work well. In the movie they did a good job of toning down the angst-laden Katniss and her conflicting internal motivations, which (to me) made it a more enjoyable film.
It will be more difficult to do that when the next two books are made into movies. I sincerely hope they succeed.
I started thinking about some of my favorite main characters, and realized that, to some degree, my most heroic and memorable main characters all tend to be neurotic, at least to a point.
Oh, it's easy to point at a villain and their behavior and shudder at the evil they do, and then analyze the deep psychological motivations that caused them to turn to the dark side. We even have some villains we begin to cheer for when they overcome these internal drivers. Darth Vader is the perfect example. (If you haven't seen all the movies, I apologize for spoiling the ending.) They are rare, though.
Take a look at Batman, one of my favorite heroes. We can all acknowledge that he is a broken man, driven by internal demons and unable to lead a normal life. He is called The Dark Knight for good reason. Aquaman? His hatred of surface-dwellers drove him insane. My favorite in the DC world is Superman, and he tends a little toward the neurotic also. Honestly, I think without Lois Lane he would just leave the planet or hide in his Fortress of Solitude. Of all the DC heroes, though, he seems the most heroic. Except for Barry Allen, my favorite Flash, but that's another story.
In the Marvel world you don't even need to hunt for neurotic heroes. Iron Man? Well, aside from the fact that being a hero drove the man to drink, to lose the woman he (should have) loved, and that he retreated from normal life - well, that's the point, isn't it? Thor? He's a Norse god struggling to be more human. There's stress for you. Let's not even talk about Hawkeye, who struggles with his own brand of conflicts, mostly involving women, both good and bad. Captain America is a man out of time, but he probably isn't neurotic, just tends toward brooding. The Hulk - okay, that's a given. Black Widow kicks butt and takes names, but can't focus on her own life at all. There's probably some man-hatred going on there, too. It isn't coincidental that I list all the heroes from the upcoming movie The Avengers.
What makes the neurotic hero different from the neurotic/psychotic villain? The villain wants to use his/her powers to subjugate the human race and take over the world, to encapsulate and simplify the concepts from hundreds of stories. The hero wants to use his/her powers to free people. Well, that's not entirely accurate. The hero is there to defeat the villain. Without the villain, there really isn't much of a story.
Try to Take over the World!
So do we have to be neurotic to want to right wrongs, to go beyond our normal abilities and try to rectify the evils we see around us?
I don't know. That's probably another post too.

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