Log in

02 October 2012 @ 01:39 pm
an assortment of thoughts, most of which somehow relate to doctor who  
One thing I will say about 7x05 is that it sure did generate a lot to talk about (seriously, there's like a dozen different topics I am holding off making posts about) and I actually even started writing a fic, although naturally I am jinxing myself by saying that out loud. (On... the internet...) So... well done there I guess?

I told placebetween, who does not watch Doctor Who but remains endlessly fascinated by its fandom wank, about how Eleven "always rips out the last page of a book" because then the story doesn't have to end and he hates endings, and she replied "manic pixie dream Doctor" and I am telling you this because it remains one of the most accurate summations of Eleven I have read. I MEAN JUST THINK ABOUT IT. He rips out the last page of a book because he doesn't like endings ha ha ha oh Doctor you so quirky. Can't you just imagine Zooey Deschanel in a bowtie and suspenders crooning "I wear a fez now, fezzes are cool"? I KNOW YOU CAN.

Anyway Eleven's the worst is what I'm saying.

Anyway, both of those things sort of lead me to this, which springs from Doctor Who musings but is in no way limited to Doctor Who or DW fandom.

SO the big srs discussion question I pose to you all is: what makes a good character? Is it a combination of narrative and development or is it something at the core of the character, the basic idea and traits? Can a good character be a good character but be poorly written, or does being poorly written automatically mean they can't be? Can a good character be trapped in a poor narrative and/or poorly developed and still be a good character?

And I guess the flipside of that is: can a character that is well-developed and/or have a good narrative and still be a "bad" (as in, objectively poorly constructed, not "bad" as in "evil" or unlikable) character?

I ask because to me, I guess, having a good narrative/being well-developed/otherwise "well written" is what makes a "good character" -- but I think other people must not feel the same, because I often see people claim someone as a great character in spite of a poor narrative, poor development, whatever. I'm thinking specifically of Amy Pond here, but it's not just Amy -- Martha gets this a lot as well ("I love Martha, she's amazing, even though the writers didn't do her justice"), and I'm sure it applies to other characters and other fandoms. (Glee springs to mind, given how much Glee fans seem to hate Glee, but I don't watch so I can't pick out specific examples.)

It's not even getting into the argument of whether or not Amy or Martha (for example) are poorly developed/trapped in poor narratives, because what sticks out to me is when I see someone say both at once; they define the narrative and/or development as bad but also go on to describe the character as great in spite of this. It's also I think something different from people having a favourite character, because that's sort of a more personal thing and I can imagine latching onto a character and then not particularly liking what happens with them but retaining that fondness anyway.

I don't think there's a right answer here but I am curious what people think.
Opalshinyopals on October 2nd, 2012 05:48 pm (UTC)

Also ripping the last pages out of books is the dumbest thing ever. Ugh, fucking won't-grow-up manchild Peter Pan Eleven is the worst.

Idk if I have many thoughts on the rest of this post. I don't tend to really notice if someone is a good character (structurally/narratively) unless it's a show I fandom. So with DW I will analyse the ins and outs of people's character arcs but with something I watch and enjoy but don't get into (say, Criminal Minds) I might have a ship I want or like a particular set of episodes for a character arc, but I won't really be bothered otherwise.

I guess I do tend to classify like/dislike, and when I like someone I tend to be a bit more forgiving. Like, I am fond of Amy and as I was reading this post I was like "well it's not like Amy's a bad character..." before my brain caught up with me and was like WTF ARE YOU THINKING SHE HAS NO CHARACTER EVERYTHING IS TERRIBLE. But because I like her, I am more likely to ignore the issues with her. Except for when they're so obvious I can't. Which is most of the time, lbr. Whereas I haaaate Eleven so I will complain about him from every angle.

I don't think that answered your question at all but I AM SLEEPY SO W/E.
Kali: dw :: amy :: the girl who waited_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:16 pm (UTC)
I think what bothers me especially about Eleven is the way the text seems to reinforce his behaviour. In this episode, River being all "never let him see the damage". "Protect his delicate sensibilities by swallowing your own grief and hurt and feelings". What the fuck? No! He's a grown-ass man, he can deal with it if sometimes people do something that might make him feel bad.

Yeah it tends to be fandoms that get the most attention from me to narrative arcs etc. I mean I'd say I have a vague sense of the development in most of the shows I watch, but for instance when I talk about The Office it's like "I thought this episode was funny" whereas bazcat89 can talk about whether or not it made sense for the characters' overall arcs and personalities and all sorts of subtleties that I don't notice because I don't pay that kind of fannish attention to the show.

I'm fond of Amy too and I do think of her as a potentially fascinating character who, unfortunately, was shackled with a very bland-at-best and offensive-at-worst narrative/lack of development. But I guess the difference here is that I would not say I think Amy was a good character, in the sense of "well-constructed", because of all those things. But I know lots of people who, I guess mainly after series 5, came to really love Amy and think she was a fantastic character, and still consider her a fantastic character despite by their own description finding series 6 (and maybe s7??? idk) terrible/a hot mess narratively and developmentally for her. I think liking a character is separate from necessarily thinking they are a very well-constructed character.
MVmrv3000 on October 2nd, 2012 06:08 pm (UTC)
UGH. Sorry, but Eleven always seems to be dumb as shit for a supposedly superior mind.

But anyway, "good character" seems very subjective. Often it's shorthand for simply "character I like." Plus some people might be able to fill in the blanks better than others for a particular caracter, for whatever reason. To them the character is rich and vibrant while to someone else they just don't get it.
Kali: dw :: martha :: frequent flyer_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:04 pm (UTC)
Eleven's 'cosmic five year old' shctick is so tired. The idea of him being like River's manic pixie dream girl is hilar to me though. SHE'S DARK AND TROUBLED. HE RIPS PAGES OUT OF BOOKS AND WEARS HATS BECAUSE IT'S CUTE. CAN THEY FIND LOVE?????

I get why some characters appeal to different kinds of people, and I think some people interact with texts differently -- some people obviously like being able to fill in the blanks themselves, and some people like to have everything laid out for them. I don't think one is more right or wrong than the other.

But what particularly interests me is when people, by their own admission, say a character is poorly written, but also define them as a good character. Like I said, you see it with Amy, and with Martha, and surely a number of others. "Martha was the best companion even though the writers didn't think so", or whatever. And it seems strange to me because it's like -- well, if you think she's the best companion, surely they were doing something right?
Clea: dw: end of the worldmuneca_brava on October 2nd, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
I think it may be a personal canon thing? For example (and this isn't the best one but it's the only one I can think of right now), I love HIMYM's Robin. I think she's a great character, and she may be one of my favourite sitcom characters ever. I fell in love with her pretty early on, because she was ambitious, not interested in marriage and babies and confident in that, and just generally awesome. But along the way, I think the writers lost track of who Robin was, and she ended up wanting children and cheating and lying etc. But when I think of Robin, I still think of the awesome Robin I love. Even though apparently she doesn't exist in the writer's minds and therefore not on tv.

What I'm trying to say is, I think it happens a lot that people see a certain character and think they 'get' them. And when they turn into something they can't recognise, instead of going 'oh I guess she/he isn't as awesome as I thought', they blame the writers for not writing the character in a better way. Or maybe they were never all that great, but you see something there that COULD be great and turn them into that in your head, which leads to constant disappointment when it doesn't add up (this is I think what happens with Amy for some).
Kali: comm :: my facebook photo is a landscape_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:20 pm (UTC)
I think personal canon is a huge part of it. I know for me anyway I do get frustrated in discussions about Amy (lol sorry Amy YOU'RE JUST SUCH A GOOD EXAMPLE) when people say, you know, "oh of course she's well-developed" but then every example they give or most of the examples they give are things that stem from a person canon/fanon and not from anything we've really seen on the show, because that to me is like -- well it's great that your version of Amy is like that, but the Amy on my TV screen isn't like that.

Anyway I think I'm getting off topic. I see what you're saying I think -- that in some cases what happens is people latch onto a character at some point when they do think the charater has been written well or has potential, but as the narrative goes on and gets lost or doesn't go the way they expected/wanted it to go, they still think of that original idea they liked and consider that good despite also acknowledging the later story as bad, or whatever. In many cases I think that's probably what's happening. I think in the example of Amy anyway that's what happened with a lot of people who grew to love her in series 5 and were terribly let down with series 6.
Clea: dw: all that runningmuneca_brava on October 3rd, 2012 11:08 am (UTC)
Yeah, I think Amy is an easy character to have extensive personal canon for because we're given so much, but in the end none of it is dealt with on the show. It's why I never really got attached to her; I'm interested in the girl who grew up without parents and with psychiatrists, who got the parents back, who lost her daughter etc but they're unwilling to deal with any of that. I guess people who love her hang on to other things or are pleased with what we got.
sherrilina: Arthur/Morgana 3 (Merlin)sherrilina on October 3rd, 2012 01:22 am (UTC)
I agree--l don't watch HIMYM, but I encountered something similar with Morgana in Merlin, and that was what I thought of when I read the post. I will always love her because in my mind she's the HBIC from season 1, but the text has not supported her in terms of development and narrative, so technically she is a bad character...
Clea: merlin: witchmuneca_brava on October 3rd, 2012 11:04 am (UTC)
Oh yeah, Morgana is definitely one of these for me too. I stopped watching Merlin a while ago for a bunch of reasons, but the treatment of Morgana was probably the main one.
Katherine: 9Rose I'm With Youspicandspan89 on October 3rd, 2012 03:32 am (UTC)
YES all of this. I have had the same response to characters (River Song and Amy). It's interesting; sort of a self-preservation thing maybe?
(Deleted comment)
Kali: dw :: eleven :: SCHOOL OF WITCHCRAFT_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:31 pm (UTC)
It's not so much a question of whether Amy or Martha are well-written or if one is written better than the other because what gets me is when someone does both at once. Like, "Amy Pond is great but her story sucks", or whatever. To me it's always a bit like, how can she be great then, if he story sucks? How can a character exist outside of their narrative? Obviously to some people they can.

lol Eleven's such a terrible character IMO I just can't with him. He is painfully immature and it's a shame because Matt has the potential to be really good. Maybe JLC's character will whip him into shape a bit, but I doubt it.
demented & sad, but socialpapilio_luna on October 2nd, 2012 06:24 pm (UTC)
I think the issue is muddied in formats where multiple people are doing the writing. When a good character gets trapped in a terrible narrative, I usually ascribe that to a character who someone at some point wrote well but the other writers dropped the ball. One writer took the chance to explore, flesh-out, round-out and give interest to a character one week, then the next week that same character is back to being a cipher. There's a great character in there that some writers can see but most squander.

To be fair, almost all of the Doctor's incarnations flirt heavily with Manic Pixie Dream Guy but Eleven dials it up to... I am not going to say eleven because I'm pretty sure it's actually in the triple digits somewhere.
Kali: dw :: last of the time lords :: BFF4EVA_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I think that's probably a good part of it at least when it comes to TV. Characters will have flashes of brilliance in certain episodes that aren't followed through in later episodes or most episodes.

Eleven's tawdry quirk collection is seriously massive, but there's not a lot of other foundation going on there to make him... um... ...likable.
Jeanne "dancing in the" d'Arc: I er uhrose_dawson on October 2nd, 2012 06:46 pm (UTC)
A "good character" to me is someone interesting and well written and who has a great ~journey and all that--it is a combination of the narrative/personality (ideas and traits). + I don't mean they need to be a big larger than life character or anything or have a huge epic journey--like Mai, she and her story are very subtle but it's all there and she is a good character to me. And I don't need to have a personal attachment to them to call them a good character, I don't have any special fondness for Zuko but I think he's a good character.

If they just have a fun/interesting personality then I'll enjoy them but I wouldn't really call them a "good character." Like Suki--she is one of my personal favorites on Avatar, and I see enough of her that I can make my own backstory and whatever for her--but we don't see her go through that much on the show (not like the main characters at least) so I wouldn't call her a "good character" that way.

And I guess the flipside of that is: can a character that is well-developed and/or have a good narrative and still be a "bad" (as in, objectively poorly constructed, not "bad" as in "evil" or unlikable) character?
lol I guess this is possible . . . like kind of, The Hunger Games, where I think you and I agreed the ideas were okay but they needed a better writer to be fully explored. Or some of the things in LOK, where we thought they needed more time/different writers--a lot of the problems in LOK were more plot, not characters though.

Can a good character be a good character but be poorly written, or does being poorly written automatically mean they can't be? Can a good character be trapped in a poor narrative and/or poorly developed and still be a good character?
If a character is poorly written then I won't call them a good character, I will usually say “They COULD BE such a great character/I know that they SHOULD BE, but the writer sucks.” lol I say this about most of the characters on VD, like, Elena for example. I love what I think she should be, but I get frustrated because I feel like the writers won't explore a lot of the aspects that make her so interesting to me--so for me it's not really “She's a good character with bad writing” it's “She could be such a great character, but not with these writers” and that's usually how I think of it. It's the same with Justin on QAF.

Edited at 2012-10-02 06:50 pm (UTC)
Kali: atla :: my cranky girlfriend_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 07:52 pm (UTC)
lol I agree with pretty much everything you said here ngl, these are essentially my feelings entirely.

And I don't need to have a personal attachment to them to call them a good character, I don't have any special fondness for Zuko but I think he's a good character.

Yeah, I can appreciate how a character has developed without having any real investment in that development. Zuko is a good example because I did not really care about his journey but I did think it was well done. And I agree that there's a difference between thinking a character is really well-written/"good" and liking them; Zuko and Suki for instance. Which is why it does surprise me a little when people talk about how great a character is but then also how poorly they were written/developed.

I think you and I agreed the ideas were okay but they needed a better writer to be fully explored. Or some of the things in LOK, where we thought they needed more time/different writers--a lot of the problems in LOK were more plot, not characters though.

Yeah it's hard for me to imagine the opposite but writing this post got me thinking about it. I think in both LOK and Hunger Games, I'll use Asami and Katniss as examples, and in both cases I think it's not like "well developed stories with poor characters" it's just "potentially-interesting characters squandered on poor stories".

so for me it's not really “She's a good character with bad writing” it's “She could be such a great character, but not with these writers”

This is how I feel most of the time, if I think the character's idea/whatever is interesting but the narrative hasn't done them justice. Amy Pond is pretty much this to me, in basic terms she could be a really fascinating character but in practice the text (in my opinion anyway) did absolutely fuck-all with any of those interesting aspects, so ultimately I don't think she was a good character in the end. I thought she was likable but her story was shit and so I don't think as a canonical character she was very good. It's also how I felt about Katniss and others -- actually most of the LOK cast now that I think about it.
Jeanne "dancing in the" d'Arc: I er uhrose_dawson on October 2nd, 2012 08:22 pm (UTC)
lol Asami was just elegant throughout the whole show, she was never even conflicted about joining/rejecting her father so ~*~LEGEND OF ASAMI yeah right five hours of watching somebody handle things 100% perfectly I think I will pass, overall best on LOK is Korra deal w/ it

For me rn Mako falls under good character with a bad story--or one not executed as well as it should have been--because I think he is interesting and I see that they intended to bring him from point A, scared of loving Korra and all the things she represents to him, to point B, he decides to embrace it in spite of everything, but those ideas were never articulated very well on the show. He's not yet at the "COULD be a great character, but . . ." point because I think/hope everything is going to get better with the new writers in season two.

lol I'm just thinking about Katara now, and how the #1 THING I DO NOT WANT is for Mako to be written like her, she wouldn't be a good character under the definition I gave, because she doesn't grow or anything, does she? I mean maybe somebody who really likes Katara would be able to come up with substantial ways she developed, but I've seen Avatar twice now and, we always talked about this, she would make the same mistakes all the time (how she would lash out at Toph is what I think of first) and whenever there was a Katara episode it was just like "Everything she does is awesome" and I remember her being always ultimately validated by the show and she never really had to learn or apologize for stuff. Or if she did, somebody had to apologize to her too lol. I can't think of Katara's point A-->point B. Maybe how she grew as a waterbender, but that was finished in like, season one--very quickly.

I think Katara is an important character, because she's a strong female POC character etc, but not necessarily a "good" one. Or "well written"--I think that is what I should say instead of "good" in this thread.

Edited at 2012-10-02 08:37 pm (UTC)
Kali: atla :: I AM BLIND YOU MORONS_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 08:40 pm (UTC)
Yeah Asami could have been interesting if the writers had fleshed out any of the things she did, like you said if she had seemed conflicted or made any actual mistakes or like... anything... other than just being 100% devoted to the Avatar and benders even as the Avatar steals her boyfriend and she loses her dad and all this stuff lol. She is a good example of this actually, like she has this huge fanclub of people who love her and think she is the "best character" while simultaneously seeming to acknowledge that her story wasn't as fleshed out as she could/should have been. Maybe they mean "best" as in personal favourite but idk.

Mako to me is similar in that I think he could be/could've been interesting but the writers didn't really do any of the legwork to develop him properly. I can fill in a lot of blanks myself to make his actions make sense but the show itself doesn't really go out of its way to show me it, and I don't like feeling like I'm doing the work for the show. But in general I think LOK had this problem with characters -- even Korra, I really love the idea of Korra and the start of her story but I don't think they really took it as far as they could've. Mako and Asami and the others get even less screentime/attention than Korra so the problems are more pronounced.

I think Katara was relatively static, so I think -- she was a good player in the overall narrative but didn't seem to have too much of a narrative of her own. She had episodes here or there, but like you said, usually it was about justifying everything Katara had done lol. Like you said I think she is important and I don't think she's bad, but I don't think she grows or develops the same way the other major players in ATLA do. (Though, thinking about it now, off the top of my head I am not sure what Toph's deal is either.)

Edited at 2012-10-02 08:41 pm (UTC)
Jeanne "dancing in the" d'Arc: I er uhrose_dawson on October 2nd, 2012 08:59 pm (UTC)
She is a good example of this actually, like she has this huge fanclub of people who love her and think she is the "best character" while simultaneously seeming to acknowledge that her story wasn't as fleshed out as she could/should have been. Maybe they mean "best" as in personal favourite but idk.
lol no they think she is the best written/most interesting/well developed character on the show, perfect beautiful Disney Princess Asami having to deal with horrible selfish Korra who stole her show AND HER MAN!!! grrr

I mean whatever I don't even bother about her stans/the LOK fandom because it's all dumb and they just think what avataraang told them to

Who knows what Asami's whole story will turn out to be but if this was the only season of Korra, in a few years when the fandom became less active I DOUBT she would still be the most popular character--like what we have talked about with Mai, people just watching the show now don't hate her because they have no reason to hate her etc etc

I don't think about Toph that much but from what I remember her ~personal growth~ ended really quickly too, it was mostly done by the end of season two. It's not as glaring to me though because she doesn't get episodes where the moral of the story is "Toph is awesome" and w/e like Katara. Or if she does I don't remember, Toph is fun but I'm not crazy about her the way the rest of the fandom is so

Edited at 2012-10-02 09:01 pm (UTC)
Kali_thirty2flavors on October 4th, 2012 09:08 pm (UTC)
as a feminist bolin appreciates amon's struggle for equality
Circle-dot-dot, swirlything-circle, dot-dot-line: t3h Rosemoonphased on October 2nd, 2012 07:18 pm (UTC)
I was about to write a rant about this in my own journal, but then when I read this, I just had to jump in.

The "I hate endings" and River's echo of "don't let him see you age because he hates endings" bothered me right at the onset, but when I went back and watched a few Nine/Ten episodes, I suddenly realized WHY.

There is one line that Nine said that I remember stuck with me (and I think sticks with a lot of fans). "Everything has its time, everything dies."

And then when I watched "School Reunion," I suddenly realized why Eleven's attitude bothered me. Ten still loved Sarah Jane for what she'd become, he loved her for becoming great and wonderful as she grew older, he was absolutely in awe of how she'd grown up, and my favorite scene in that episode, hell in almost any Doctor Who episode was this:

"Goodbye. My Sarah Jane."

I can understand the "I'm sad when things come to an end; it hurts" sentimentality, but the tantrumy-wantrumy way that it was presented in "Angels Take Manhattan" didn't do anything to gain my sympathy. It just annoyed me. But yeah... that's just about that particular incident.

And moving on to the "good character" thoughts... I'll use Martha as the example because I'm totally guilty of saying "she was a good character but the writers didn't do her justice," (which, when you point it out like you did, kinda IS a weird thing to say...). I'm starting to think that with Martha, I liked her characteristics and actually the more I watched her the more I do like her development and narrative, and I like the development it gave the Doctor. But sometimes I do feel like there were aspects of her story and her time with the Doctor that kind of... weren't as enjoyable, I guess? And I think for this, Martha's crush on the Doctor is what gets to most people; some people think it was maybe unnecessary to include that in her story or give it as much attention as it got, which is where the "it didn't do her justice" part comes in. But then as I let her story sink in more, I realize that it is indeed important to include that part of her into her story.

I'm... probably not making any sense right now. ^^;

Edited at 2012-10-02 07:38 pm (UTC)
Kali: dw :: sarah jane :: tough act to follow_thirty2flavors on October 2nd, 2012 08:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah I think the idea of the Doctor "hating endings" makes sense, but only if the show is aware that, you know, you can't hide from endings forever. I think they maybe kinda-sorta wanted to get there in TATM, since Eleven rips out the last page but runs back for it later because it's Amy's goodbye, but having River in the middle reinforcing "never let him see the damage/never let him see you age" just makes it convoluted to me.

I mean, of course the Doctor hates endings (or more specifically goodbyes, since that's what he really means). I don't imagine most people like them much. But the childish fingers-in-ears "nah nah I can't hear you" implied by ripping out pages and all that is just... I dunno. It's not that interesting, to me as a viewer, and I think it makes his character seem very immature. Especially I think because... like you said, in "School Reunion", that scene where Sarah Jane demands a proper goodbye and Ten concedes, plus later "burning up a sun to say goodbye" and all that, it seems like Eleven backtracking I guess. I could handwave that maybe all the shit he went through as Ten made him regress like that, but like you said, the tantrums (LOL FOREVER @ tantrumy-wantrumy btw) make him appear childish and selfish and not at all like an "ageless god" (thanks for that btw River).

. But sometimes I do feel like there were aspects of her story and her time with the Doctor that kind of... weren't as enjoyable, I guess?

I would say though that a narrative doesn't have to be enjoyable to be well-written though. I can see why people don't like Martha's unrequited love story, for example, because they either found it tedious to watch or just plain uncomfortable, but I think it played an important role in her development as a character and I don't think being uncomfortable to watch necessarily equates with bad.

With Martha in particular I think a lot of the time I feel like the people who claim to love her the most are the ones who, as far as I can tell, missed the entire point of her story. People who talk about how they love Martha "even though" her story was "all about her not being as good as Rose", or "even though RTD hated her" or whatever, it just baffles me because I think -- why do you love this character if you missed all the best parts of her?
clodiaclodia_risa on October 2nd, 2012 10:00 pm (UTC)
I think the words "good" and "bad" are a bit misleading. You can certainly have a compelling character who is poorly used in canon, or even when the canon itself is poorly written. You can even have compelling ideas for a character that fall flat in execution (I think many would agree that River Song would be one such.) I think a character is good, or compelling, when the audience wants to know more about them. Wants to know how they'll react to different situations. Wants to see the world from their point of view.

Many Disney villains are compelling, but not well-written characters. They're evil...because. But something about their style, their energy, their charisma, SOMETHING about them is compelling.

I don't think you can be a "good" character unless the writer(s) and the audience tune into the same aspects of the character and more is shown of that character to flesh out that original compelling idea. So no, I don't think you can have a well-written, good character outside of a well-written, good canon. Call me biased, but I'd put most of the characters of B5 or Avatar the Last Airbender in that lot. They're originally interesting, and then the canon makes sure to put them each through character-building situations in order to flesh them out further.

I think it is hard to have a well-written character in the NuWho, because beyond the Doctor, most of the characters are companions. And most of those exist primarily for their relationship with the Doctor. As such, their motivations are not largely fleshed out beyond that point of interaction. It worked for Rose. It was tiresome with Martha, but she had motivations beyond the Doctor. She just rarely got to work with them. Donna was working with her own issues by travelling with, not being with the Doctor, and I'd love to see more companions like her. Some of the one-off characters are the most compelling (Jack, Wilfred, etc.) Since their existence does not hinge on interaction with the Doctor, characterization is required, which makes them far more interesting far more quickly.

I do think you can have a compelling character in a poorly written show. But I don't think you can have a good character in one.
Kali: dw :: team tardis :: well-chosen_thirty2flavors on October 3rd, 2012 04:35 pm (UTC)
I guess by "good" and "bad" I really mean "well-written/constructed" vs "poorly written/constructed". Which, I guess, is why when I see people say something like "Amy is a [well-written] character with a poorly written narrative" I'm left scratching my head.

I do think there's a distinction to be made between "compelling" and "well-written" though, at least if we assume "compelling" means interesting to watch, engaging to watch, whatever (in contrast I guess with "emotionally compelling" which I think would require some sort of narrative growth etc) and it's possible to have characters that are fun/interesting to watch without them being particularly well developed.

I think it is hard to have a well-written character in the NuWho, because beyond the Doctor, most of the characters are companions. And most of those exist primarily for their relationship with the Doctor.

I don't know that I think being a companion necessarily precludes being a well-written character. I'd say Rose, Martha and Donna all have their own stories of growth and their own personal narratives in addition to their relatioship with the Doctor, even if their relationship with the Doctor and the subsequent adventures/etc they have are the catalyst for those stories. Rose becoming a hero, Martha learning to stand up for herself, Donna believing in herself -- their relationship with the Doctor is part of that but it's also an internal emotional journey.

I do think you can have a compelling character in a poorly written show. But I don't think you can have a good character in one.

I would say, for my own definition anyway, it's possible for a character to exist that has a well-written development/personal narrative within a larger canon that isn't well-written or developed. I don't have any particular examples that spring to mind but I do think it would be possible.

Edited at 2012-10-03 04:35 pm (UTC)
(Deleted comment)
Kali: dw :: oswin :: the girl who can_thirty2flavors on October 3rd, 2012 04:47 pm (UTC)
Characters are most important to me as well. Here I was specifically talking about that character's journey though -- like, can they be considered "good characters" even if their story (as a subset of the larger whole story) isn't well-written?

My favourite kinds of plots are ones that are obviously designed to accomplish something for the charater, and likewise my least favourite plots are ones where I feel like the characters are merely chess pieces being taken through the motions by the plot devices. It's why I like episodes like "Waters of Mars" but dislike episodes like "Let's Kill Hitler". I think it's probably possible for a character to have a good personal narrative within a larger shitty narrative, but I can't think of an example.
Lizbazcat89 on October 2nd, 2012 10:39 pm (UTC)
I was going to write a long reply, but I think Noel already said it better than I could have, TBH.
Jeanne "dancing in the" d'Arc: I er uhrose_dawson on October 3rd, 2012 01:45 am (UTC)
Lizbazcat89 on October 3rd, 2012 02:15 am (UTC)
Image and video hosting by TinyPic
earlgreytea68earlgreytea68 on October 2nd, 2012 11:44 pm (UTC)
In some strange way, characters exist for me as separate from their narrative. And that makes no sense, because what are they but a product of their narrative? But I feel like the existence of the character apart from the narrative is what allows fanfiction to exist. There is a character of The Doctor who gets written about all over, and this character remains recognizably The Doctor, apart from the narrative The Doctor is currently in.

I actually think Edward Cullen could be an awesome character but he was stuck with an author who was distressingly superficial about him.
Kali: eng :: too wise to woo peaceably_thirty2flavors on October 3rd, 2012 05:35 pm (UTC)
I can see how people connect with the core ideas or traits or what have you in a character, and I see (obviously, lol, as a fic writer) what's appealing about writing that character outside of their actual canon narrative.

But -- and this is related I guess although not exactly what prompted me to make this post -- I do find it very frustrating when fandom confuses their fanon or ~personal canon~ for actual canon. I mean, I don't mind someone taking the time to flesh out in their minds a character that hasn't been fleshed out. That's great and everyone is entitled to do that, and some of my very favourite fics are fics where someone has done just that with a character. But I find it frustrating when that stuff gets used as "evidence" about who the character is, canonically.

doctahr: Nine/Rose Happy Ninedoctahr on October 3rd, 2012 12:35 am (UTC)
Definitely. I love Amy, actually, but I didn't like how her stories went. Same with River. ESPECIALLY River.
I've found that if you have a good story, the characters help make it a good story, so while you can have a bad story with good characters, you can't have a good story with bad characters as easily. But I'm sure it's still possible.
I mean, I've read fic where I wanted to like it because the plot was good, and the writing wasn't bad, but I just really disliked how they wrote the characters. IDK if that counts though.
Kali: atla :: fucking zuko_thirty2flavors on October 3rd, 2012 05:43 pm (UTC)
I think a good story with flat characters (or, well, engaging, I guess, since I am unlikely to consider a story truly "good" if its characters are flat) must be possible -- I guess for the most part I'd put "Inception" in this category, because the characters were IMO very cardboard but the idea of the story was interesting. I've only seen Inception once, though, so the story might not actually be very good lol.

For me I suppose it's a question of semantics, but when the idea of a character is good but the actual story doesn't make use of that potential (like River or Amy), I think of it more like "this character COULD be/have been great but unfortunately wasn't", rather than "this character is great but their story wasn't". I also don't really think of liking a character and thinking a character is a well-done character are necessarily related -- as someone else said I don't care for Zuko, but I think Zuko had a good story and good development. And I like Amy, even though I think she's canonically a hot mess.
ladysophiekittyladysophiekitty on October 3rd, 2012 12:36 am (UTC)
LOL I have a lot of feelings about characterizations, so prepare for a semi long and ranty comment. But I AGREE WITH THAT DESCRIPTION OF Eleven!

I guess with me, a lot of it has to do with a character's potential. I liked Martha ok from the beginning, but it wasn't until I saw her story and where she was coming from that I was able go to back and appreciate her and fall in love with her. It's not because they did a bad job with her character, but I needed to see where it was going first. Morgana from Merlin I felt had a lot of potential because they wrote her in such a fascinating way in s1: someone who is essentially good but has such strong ideas that she can get a bit carried away with and can do the wrong things. But she also had a lot of inner conflict because she was scared and in denial of her magic, yet using it frequently to save the son of the person she's scared of, because she cares about his well-being. But then later on they took away a lot of what made her interesting and just made her scared, and then just evil. I get mad a lot because I think of what could have been. Obviously, my idea of lost potential and other people's, including the writers, idea is much different. But often I have my own personal idea of Morgana's future.

I think what gets tricky too is that in real life, people can wake up one day and completely change their minds on something, like going from absolutely not wanting kids to wanting some, and it's no big deal. But since we're not in these character's minds, writers need to be a lot more obvious about change. So if one day a character just announces out of the blue she wants to get a sperm donation, that's going to be a bit jarring and upsetting for me.

Or in the case of Matt and Karen, I get frustrated with their characters because I like certain aspects of them and I like the people playing them, but the characters are so poor, both in who they are as people and who their stories choose to be. With Nine, Ten, Rose, Donna, and Martha, I can look back at their entire story and character and growth and appreciate it (both during and after) and understand it and go, "YES, THIS MAKES PERFECT SENSE!" whereas if you asked me to explain River, Rory, Amy, or Eleven, I'd find it super difficult. If I don't think about it too much I can say that yes, I am fond of Amy, but in this case potential is a negative thing because it makes me hate the show. I know that DW under RTD wasn't perfect, but I was always more inclined to forgive the imperfections because other things distracted me from it (like characterization!) and also it was fun to laugh at things like the TARDIS carrying back Earth to its proper location. With Moffat, he favors plot over character growth and then makes things super complicated, so I'm more likely to notice and complain about things.

So I guess IMO what makes a good character is them having development that makes sense for them and a good story that brings about said development. I liked how Rose, Martha, and Donna were changed because of their adventures with the Doctor, in both good ways and bad, and I didn't feel like Amy's character changed much. Her stories were, again, used more to develop the plot rather than who she is as a person.

/rant, sorry if that didn't make sense.

Let Them Talkbluetooth16 on October 3rd, 2012 01:48 am (UTC)
I must be the only one here who loves Eleven's manic pixieness. I think it's a trait that many previous Doctors have, but he really brings it to the forefront. In a weird way, it also shows just how dangerous he is if he's angry. I cried ugly tears at the finale because I was so attached to Amy. (I love Rory too, but Amy was the first female companion since Martha that I got insanely attached to.)

To me, there's no one way to be a good character. Good characters can come out of undeveloped writing just as much as they come from well developed plots. The goodness can come from traits or it can come from their reactions to situations in the plot.

a lanky brunette with a wicked jaw: dw || amy11; it's a spaceship?!intrikate88 on October 3rd, 2012 02:23 am (UTC)
Wow, HIPSTERS IN SPAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACE has never been more relevant. Manic Pixie Dream Doctor, that is it exactly and somehow it just feels worse because at least with Zooey or other of that character type, you know it's male gaze shit, but with Eleven, nope, he's straight up drinking PBR and talking about his plans to build a log cabin in Sweden and ohhhhh we are stopping by this eclectic yard sale because that unrecognizable thing would make a great TARDIS doohickey handle.

Or whatever.

Damn, that's a challenging question. And I think it has something to do with whether you base a character as how they are written or as how they are read. (Something... vs. Reader response) There are a lot of very well-developed and carefully drawn characters, such as Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman, but she doesn't linger in my mind or continue to stir something in me. Amy is written so that you only see her like an infrequent poster to facebook, you may see a snapshot or a status update and you don't understand how they're related or the whole context, but somehow I feel for her despite that. (Or maybe because of that; because I have to hold onto her if the story will not.) So I really don't know. I generally think a good character is someone who has goodness but isn't a paragon, selfishness and malice but isn't evil, and even if not everything is told about why they have become the person they are, you do know that there is a reason, that they didn't just pop forth fully formed. And I think that I can see that in Amy, and in River, despite the fact that all the quality of their lives was played offstage; I don't see that in Eleven, who was Peter Pan from the start and I don't get the sense that there is a reason for that, or for his choices, or that he would ever possibly evolve from being that.
Katherinespicandspan89 on October 3rd, 2012 03:29 am (UTC)
I agree with a lot of what's being said here. I have liked characters in spite of their narratives before. Identifying with a character and becoming attached to them seems to make people see them as separate from their narratives. I wonder if having this mentality is due to being in fandom - many people read/write fanfiction, and are able to mentally dissociate characters from the canon narrative. Fandom cares about the nitty-gritty details about what makes a character tick, the development of their arc, etc., and it's almost like discussing this character and producing fanworks provides them with some "ownership". When TPTB take the character in a different direction, the fandom may feel like there was wasted potential, since their ideas were not used.

That was the long version. To put things more simply:
To me, a good character is one with an interesting concept/traits, etc. A great character is one who also has a good narrative.
A burning tyger (is on fire): Rose/Ten kisshungrytiger11 on October 3rd, 2012 04:13 am (UTC)
I think when people say this- that a character is "good" even when the narrative they are in is not- there are several things that might be drawing them to the characters. First, if its a medium where things are acted out...well, let's not discount what the actors do. They might be bringing something to the table for the character they portray that goes beyond what it written. They bring something of themselves and something of that character. Even when the writing is awful, the actors can manage to bring this. I think Amy might often fall into this for me. Karen Gillian seems adorkable and charming. Some of that is brought to Amy's character, even when its not really written in. I dunno; not a huge Amy fan, but I like her alright and think this might be largely why.Second, I think a lot of these "good" characters are often just for self-insertion, really. They are designed for you to step into their shoes (and therefore the audience might associate their own characteristics with this character, even if the text does not). Bella Swan of a certain infamous book is this. I think Amy is too, rather. Third, it seems like when characters are first presented, people recognize certain tropes/achetypes are being used. They might really like these tropes and get attached to the character(s), but be disappointed in the way the story plays out. I'll admit River Song was that for me. Female Indiana Jones type/Femme Fatale....turns out to be brainwashed and man-obsessed. Some might feel this about Martha too, now that I'm thinking about this. Smart, intelligent woman (of color too)...but she spends most of the time fairly miserable/unlucky in love.

I'm not sure any of these things mean the character is a "good" character, in the sense that they are compelling or well-written. But it might mean they are more likeable, somehow, despite their flaws? Not sure if that makes sense.

obstinate, headstrong girl!: dw | amy pondzombie_boogie on October 4th, 2012 01:30 am (UTC)
Here's my thing with Amy: I loved Amy in series five. I will argue until I'm blue in the face that she was a well-written character in series five and that she had a strong narrative in series five. And then series 6 happened womp womp. But I was already attached so I still love her anyway? But I suppose she went from being an objectively "good" character that I loved to just a character I loved who happened to be trapped in a bad narrative. I can't argue that she was a "good" character in series six in terms of the writing (I have yet to watch any of series seven).

I think it sometimes happens that a character starts out as good, or at least has the potential to be good, so people get attached but then the writing fails them? Annie and Britta from Community are good examples of this, I think. Both are way underwritten and their narratives do them no favours. But both have qualities, and have shown signs of narrative potential, to make people become attached to them and develop head canons and want more for them. I think YMMV when it comes to how much someone can sustain themselves on potential and tidbits and head canon alone.
Circe: Doctor Donna: run!redcirce on October 4th, 2012 03:57 am (UTC)
Lots of random thoughts: I think that the main thing is that people in fandom have this weird thing where they become really possessive of a character, due to the fact that once a character slides into fandom, there are so many fingerprints over it- possibly several original writers, many, many fan writers, producers, actors, etc.- that people start to feel that their interpretation is just as valid as any other and that they "understand" a character the best. Once that happens and they feel they have a good grasp of the character, canon and narrative ceases to matter for them, because the actual writers are either proving them right or "doing it wrong", if that makes sense. TV shows I think are especially bad because if you have a soulful actor playing a baddie, that might add unintended dimensions, or if you have a head writer that doesn't know how to wrangle his staff, you might get people writing characters totally differently. That being said, IMO think characters in shows, or any long running media (like a book series) are more important, and you notice discrepancies more. I mean, if a movie is pretty but the characters suck, it's not a big deal, but if a show is pretty but 10 episodes in the characters suck, I'll probably give up.

For me I think constructing a cohesive character ("ideas and traits") is more important for creating a "good" character than their narrative- I've definitely run across minor characters in books or movies that just spark interest for any combination of reasons. But the interesting ideas and traits have to expressed through the audience (dialogue, interactions with other characters, reactions to things) in a way that is natural and works well for the audience to buy it. (So, not how River was handled.) If people feel they have a handle on and an emotional attachment to a character then I think they're willing to overlook a clumsy narrative. For me I think the "poorly written" is only a problem if it's consistent. A character is a book that sucks is just a character that had potential, while one in a series that is hit or miss can be a good character with occasional bad writers.

I also think for some people, they really like to project themselves, and their thoughts and feelings on characters (see pretty much all character bashing, Bella Swan, etc.) so "poorly written" characters are really a boon because they get to make the character as awesome as they want and interpret everything they way they want. Extensive characterization would actually be bad because it would interrupt their personal view of a character. (They also seem to take any criticism of those characters more personally, which makes sense, since you're basically insulting their thought processes.)

Not having seen a lot of Moffat's stuff it seems like his problem is both poorly defined characters (to start with) in poorly defined narratives, which means the characters are screwed either way. I'm also one of those that like Martha but not her narrative so much. I thought her arc was good, and interesting, but parts of it were too heavy handed and focused too much on stuff I didn't find interesting to the detriment of stuff I did. But I don't think the writers hated her, I just think they wrong parts of her storyline poorly.

(Man, can you imagine how awful movie night with Eleven would be? There'd be like 10 minutes left and they'd be about to reveal the killer and he'd pop in and change the channel.)