Welcome to another entry in my ongoing craft analysis series (more about it here). This has been a less productive week because my computer decided to enter teenage-dom (add long delays before working, I think a hard drive problem) and for someone who does most of my writing via dictation, it is somewhat distracting to have fifteen to thirty second pauses after very short phrases before I see what I have written.
This week's subject is Cirkus Cirkör's "Wear It like a Crown" a play/modern dance/circus show that I saw in Stockholm last month. Cirkus Cirkör is a Cirque du Soleil style group (I say that having never seen a Cirque du Soleil show). Last year, I showed up thirty minutes before the opening of Inside Out and got second row tickets for almost nothing because the feather headdress that the live band's lead singer wore might obstruct my view a little. During the show, you know how the magicians select someone from the crowd to saw in half, I was that person (okay, they didn't saw me in half but they did levitate me). The show was a life-changing experience that made me realize that I needed to create. As a result, I had high expectations going into this show. However, that's not what this segment is about. It's about craft and I want to talk about sympathetic characters. As usual, this post will contain spoilers; however, the show depends so much on the physical that it is unlikely I'll ruin anything for you.
This show has several characters but I want to concentrate on the Mistress of Mayhem and Marvel of the Century who fall in love and consummate their love with ping-pong ball kisses. What struck me about these two characters is that I cared about their romance and in particular Marvel. He pursued the Mistress and at first she wasn't interested. It was this struggle, this conflict, that was part of what made me sympathize with the characters. However, it was also that Marvel -- using no words -- showed that he was more than a flat stereotype. Some of this also was an emphasis on a flaw in his character. It is this latter that I find interesting because I always struggle around flaws. To me an Indiana Jones style flaw (afraid of snakes) isn't really a flaw. To me a flaw is something that makes a character less sympathetic. It can be an obsession or ambition that results in the character not leading a balanced life.
Marvel's flaw is that he is preoccupied with himself. This is shown efficiently through his theft of the Mistress's "bag of wow". He takes the wow and consumes it, glories in it, and ruins it. It is only when he sees the sadness that he's created in the Mistress that he starts an arc that begins with a desire for her and results in a changed character.
I think what balances the character that takes an action that is deliberately unsympathetic is a struggle for a goal and it's particularly sweet when the character must deal with his flaw to accomplish his goal.
What are your thoughts about unsympathetic flaws and whether they work for characters?