My family are readers, and always have been. We also like to share, and as a result we’ll often be reading along happily in the living room or wherever, and come across something that we particularly enjoy for whatever reason, and so we will attract the attention of whoever is there and read it out loud to them. I was reading a book yesterday that was making me laugh at fairly regular intervals even though it was supposed to be a somewhat action-y story, and I was reading some of the more choice lines of dialogue to my father who would chuckle and go back to the newspaper.
Until I got to a sentence that I enjoyed about one of the main character’s coworkers. It was a comment in passing about how competent the man was at his job (as a bodyguard/security person with a military background.) It was a bit of mild exaggeration, like many people are prone to about their friends, and it was in a toss-away popcorn book, but I felt it was a nice moment that highlighted not only the character of the man being described, but also the man doing the describing. (Word choice can be so important, yes?) My father, on the other hand, grumbled something about ‘invincible badasses’ and went back to reading about politics. Obviously a more fun time.
Arguably I had more information on the security team than he did. After all, I was the one reading the book, and I had the benefit of knowing the characters fairly well, so I was surprised. But it did bring up an excellent point. Invulnerability is boring as all hell. A character is more than allowed to be a badass, but they also have to have a weak spot somewhere, or the adventure is going to be about as interesting as watching paint dry. Think about all the really memorable heroes out there and you’l find some sort of massive blind spot or exploitable weakness. Indiana Jones? Afraid of snakes and almost pathologically prone to taking a punch. Harry Potter? Lack of familiarity with the wizarding world starts him off at a disadvantage which he eventually overcomes, but what he never overcomes is a dangerous impulsiveness and a tendency to jump to the easiest solution, even if that action will only make things worse in the long run. Going back much further in storytelling history, Achilles? Pretty famously badass till someone with excellent aim takes out his heel.
Invincible heroes are boring. If it’s not a challenge, then there’s no satisfaction in the struggle. Heck, there’s no struggle! But it doesn’t have to be an obvious weakness. It can be subtle. It can be a challenge that’s also a strength. The bodyguard hero in my book? He’d been in a plane crash which had damaged his vision. He would be temporarily blinded going into a darker building from a sunny day— not the handiest thing for a bodyguard. They can be psychological as well. Not only did he have to cope with the poor vision, but his personality (and physical presence) were so big and overpowering that it took a great deal of effort to simply be around him. Outside his teammates, he was fairly alone, which can be crippling for an extroverted personality like that.
The writer doesn’t need to go deep into a character’s flaws (the extroversion is well documented, but the loneliness is only somewhat implied in a vague manner) but they have to be there, affecting the character’s actions, and as a result the plot. Otherwise there’s no conflict, and without conflict there’s no story. I admit I love a badass. But my dad is right. Nobody loves an invincible badass.