Even Jerks Can Work

He’s arrogant, cruel, self-righteous, petty, venal, and in so many ways a jerk. Yet he’s funny, witty, and charming, so he’s the star of the show.

Maybe you didn’t think of Benjamin Franklin Pierce, AKA Hawkeye from M*A*S*H, as an awful man, but he is. He belittles Frank Burns rather than help improve him, he objectifies women, makes sport of everyone, can dish it out but can’t take it, and while he’s a great meatball surgeon, if you knew him in real life, you’d consider him vain, shallow, and mean.

That’s the power of story. As a fictional character who you don’t have to live with, Hawkeye is fun. As a co-worker or friend, he’d be tiresome.

The Avengers: Jeremy Renner was so fed up of being 'Loki's minion ...
No, no, no, not THAT Hawkeye… well, okay, that Hawkeye, too.

In a story, though, Hawkeye promotes conflict. He riles people up, then awes them with his skill as a wit and a doctor.

He is deeply flawed, which makes him an engaging character. My main characters are often too nice, too good, because they are the observers of the action.

That’s a weakness in my writing and one I need to correct. A flawed character can get worse AND can get better; he can change. He’s unpredictable and stirs controversy. He gets himself into and out of trouble. He commits the action, he is not acted upon.

Hawkeye is a great character, but a lousy person. Make sure your characters are flawed yet have a way of covering themselves.

Another example of this is Psych, a favorite of my children. Sean’s a jerk. Flat out, lousy friend, jerk. Gus MUST have been abused as a child to put up with him. Jewels is out of her mind for caring about him.

But he’s funny. Audacious. Gets away with stuff we can’t.

He’s good story.

Gregory House is another jerk, but he pushes the jerk way hard with the only redeeming quality is that he knows medicine. He is THE most unlikable human on the planet played so fetchingly by Hugh Lorrie. Roguish, biting charm…

In Star Wars, everyone’s favorite human is Han Solo. A roguish, charming bad boy with a tarnished heart of gold.

There must be something good about being bad.

In a story (don’t take that as an excuse to be a charming jerk in real life).

A Surprising Admission from a Publisher

I know it’s strange to admit, but I haven’t read a paperback book in years. I read a couple of hardback books a little more than a year ago, but almost all my reading has been done on a Kindle Fire or a computer.

Until recently, that is. I’ve relocated my office and probably a thousand books, among which I found several novels I had been meaning to read. Two nights ago, I picked up Dean Koontz’s By the Light of the Moon.

It was weird.

6 x 9 Standing Paperback Book Mockup - Covervault
Do you know where your paperback is?

The font was small, the margin dipped into the bend of the spine, and it felt odd turning thin pages. Then someone turned off the light and reading was over for the evening.

I’ve taken for granted the ability to change font size and type style on my Kindle. Both my Paperwhite and Fire need no exterior light, and swiping is second nature.

I had the thought that it won’t be long before e-readers completely take over the market. I’ve been resistant, of course. I love paper books. I love the smell and the creak of the spine. Yet I made the realization that of the six bookshelves in my office, my Kindle has the capacity to hold all my books in the palm of my hand. That says a lot to a guy with a sore back from moving said bookshelves.

Of course, I take that to heart when designing my author’s books. Font is large enough to read easily, gutters are wide enough, but the ebook sells for less and has the same royalty.

Will paperbacks and hardbacks go the way of the VCR? Maybe. Especially with libraries being closed for a while now, people are turning to their Kindles. It is difficult to go back.

Does that surprise you? Perplex you? Or have not thought about paperbacks in a while?