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February 19, 2014

So Why Make an Everyman?

If you’re just joining me here on Cross-Up -- and I’m not entirely sure why you would -- then let me make something clear right now.  In my opinion, the main character of a story defines the story.  And by extension, if the main character of a story is bad, then the story is bad.  I’ve said as much in the past, and while I’d like to think that I’m mellow enough to say that there are exceptions, I’m having a hard time thinking up any…so I’m going to revoke that mellowness and say there are no exceptions.  For me, at least.

It makes sense, doesn’t it?  When people talk about stories they like, one of the first things they’ll mention when it comes to favorites -- or at least use as an example for why the story is awesome in the first place, and you should like totally check it out, dude -- is a character.  It’s only natural.  Characters have faces, dialogue, personalities, and some good old panache to make their story worthwhile.  As they should.

And then there’s the “everyman”.  Trying to make me look like a fool since 1803.

You know the type.  The average guy.  The lovable loser.  The ordinary high school student.  That one guy you saw that one time in a line at the corner store.  Basically, normal guys -- normal to an outsider looking in, or normal in accordance with their world/canon.  It’s common to see them in some capacity, and even more so to see them go from guys just trying to get by to heroes who’ll save the galaxy, rescue the princess, or stab a baddie in the heart.  Either that, or be the chosen one or something.

But I wonder how useful they really are in the grand scheme of things -- that is, if they’re useful at all. 

I’m not so small-minded as to say they’re completely worthless.  Sometimes, you just have to have an average character -- someone who can help offer a bit of stability and familiarity to a world that’s as alien as the piles of mush my dog spewed onto my pillow at 4:30 in the morning one Sunday.  Some stories need an anchor character, and someone who’s “safe” so as to make the transition from the normal to the fantastic easier to digest.  Or maybe they just need to create that contrast; the everyman is important, but everything and everyone else around him is much more vital.  I know it’s not exactly one-to-one, but in the case of something like Mass Effect you had to play as a non-distinct space man/woman to A) craft your ideal commander, B) interact with other characters without having the narrative override you, and C) create the illusion of creating the universe as you saw fit.

That all said, in my case it feels like something a bit more antithetical.  I said that the main character should be the most important character in the story, but they have to earn that distinction.  And they have to do that by being (or at least trying to be) the most unique, proactive, and consequential characters they can.  They have to be one of the story’s biggest movers-and-shakers, engaging with the story on their terms so we, the audience, can engage on our terms.  In my eyes, I shouldn’t have to identify with a character -- and especially not a protagonist -- because they’re relatable to me.  I should identify with a character because they’re NOT relatable to me -- because they’re extraordinary, larger-than-life men and women acting as a galaxy of ideas.

You just can’t get that with everymen.  Well, not immediately; I’m open to the idea that their safety (or blandness, if you prefer) will pay off eventually, like if they go from normal guy to Level 9999 Paladin over the course of a story.  But a character that’s largely there for the audience’s benefit has a longer way to go than a character that’s there for the story’s benefit -- or just so the story can even scratch things off the checklist.  Though I could be a little biased.  Maybe not.  There have been some comments on this very blog that suggest the same.

And that’s exactly why I’m opening the floor for you readers.  It’s time for you to weigh in and answer the question: what do you make of the average everyman?  Any examples of the character type you’ve got in mind?  Have an insight on how and why they appear?  Think they can be used effectively?  Want to use this post as a chance to bring up The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy?  Too late!  I already did!

But feel free to talk about anything else that comes to mind.  I could use a little help in becoming less bland -- so do you think you can shout it out?  Then you know what to do.  Ready?  Set?  Comme-

Hey, I haven’t forgotten about you.  You’ll get yours this Friday.

You piece of shit.

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