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Nuke 'Em 'Till They Glow!! - The  Early Years

Conflict Builds Character
Written by Benjamin A. Oliver
Artwork by Esa Karjalainen
July 18, 2003

BenThe Voices Won't Stop…

I believe I've talked before about the need to give important characters enough personality that they can make it by on their own. It's not really enough anymore, nowadays, to just hint at a character's personality and hope that the reader gets it. No, in these enlightened times we have to bring out a lot of action and test the random individual's mettle against the harshest things they could ever go up against. They've got to be prodded, punched, squished, and yelled into submission, and then afterwards come back to defeat the villains in a hideously one-sided battle… though it's much better if the hero(ine) gets trashed a whole bunch in the process.

I mean, what has fiction come to? In the good old days, guys like Superman could go out and put an end to the villain in one punch after showing up. Oh, maybe there was a ten second segment where someone found some kryptonite and there was a brief struggle before Lois Lane managed to hide it in some conveniently placed lead-lined safe, but the hero always won and there was never any doubt! Times were simpler then…

But now, to make an entertaining character, it takes more than morals and combat prowess. It takes blood, sweat, tears, and bits of broken relationships to make a fun, entertaining hero(ine). Why could that be? Perhaps because they seem more real to us in those cases than the sparkling, flawless diamonds that came before.

This is not to say that trials for a super-character are new developments. They seem to be found, then lost and finally dredged up again in a never-ending cycle, depending on what society wants at the time. In a classic European tale from long ago, the Song of Roland, the main characters were capable of slaying thousands of their enemies in a single swipe, and splitting the main lieutenants from the top of the head, down the middle, and straight through the horse beneath. And that's with the villains wearing their armor. But in the end, even those godlike heroes were defeated. They died nobly, but still, they didn't live happily ever after, as such.

Back to making a character more real. There's obviously a limit to what one person can do, and it's a joy when limited people do more than their abilities should allow. The Sailor Moon series (though considered by many to be a simple Japanese girls' show) is full of examples of the weak and cowardly defeating the strong and fearsome. With love and naivete, all crumble beneath the flashy, well-posed strikes.

But that's an enjoyable, heart-warming thing to see. It's a people kind of thing, since there are so many of us that consider ourselves weak and unable to fight back. There always has to be a unique twist to it, too. To reference the Three Amigos, people like to see three wealthy Spanish landowners fighting for the rights of peasants, but no one cares about three wealthy Spanish landowners on weekend in Manhattan.

So, how do we get to caring about a character? Seeing them in action, that's how. It's by hearing them talk, seeing them walk, and watching them get back up after getting knocked down that can become so involving. It's not what the narrator says about their qualities that has so much effect—it's what they do and the context in which they exist that drives home the point.

So, I've brought a few personalities of NETTG's main character along for a question-and-answer session.

Q. What's your real name?
TerraA: Who are you again? Oh, what the heck, why not! My name isn't important. I haven't thought of one for myself that I really think of as mine. If you're asking what people called me by for most of my life and what caught my attention, I'd have to say it's usually something like, "AAAAARRRGGGHH!!!" or "Oh, @%$@%@#%@#!!" or even "PLEASE, DON'T EAT MEEEE!!!" At one point—after assuming human form—I was asked who I was. So, I thought about it, and decided that I am the primal, unnatural force of the universe that strikes fear into the hearts of all that exist. I am the one who comes to ruin Destiny, just when it seemed so certain. I am the Terrifying One, Ravager of Worlds, Devourer of the Invincible, and Destroyer of Galaxies. All who dare stand against me needs must perish—HEY, STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!!
Q2. Ahem. Right, well, while the other chap finds a way to put his molecules back together, let's ask another fragment what this is all about. So tell me, number one, what does it feel like to be a small chunk of someone so great?
ASKA: Oh, you know, the pay stinks but at least the hours are bad. I'm telling you, it's rotten not having control over my own life. I try to go off on a date with some babalicious time guardian—you know who I'm talking about, she looks hot in that skintight fuku of hers (nudge nudge, wink wink, say-no-more!)—and then my real self or core being or whatever comes along and orders me to kill off her civilization… Man, it's murder on my love life!
Q2: You don't seem too bad off, though. Aside from the relationship problems, surely you have some sort of perks?
A: The armor. Chicks dig the armor. But no, seriously, I do get to carry around and fire off really cool weapons, and the fact that I can't really be killed so long as my real self's alive is a huge benefit. When I'm doing really dangerous, crazy stuff like slaughtering an asteroid's demonoid-human population, it's comforting to know that if they get one too many hits in, it's no big deal. Besides, it's great to brag that I can use my Ultimate Attack more than just once. Normally, that sort of thing is fatal, but man, it looks great when it goes off!
Q2: And what is that Ultimate Attack of yours called?
A: My attack? It's got the most awesome name ever. I call it… Uh, sorry, duty calls. I need to go blow someone up.
Q2: What are you doing with that— Wait… hey… HEY!
A: Time to pay the piper, Q&A dude. YAAAAAAAAH!!!!

Q: Has she calmed down yet? Ah, yes, there she is. Are you feeling less violent now?
TerraA: Um… I'm sorry! Mother had a chat with me, and… I… I'm sorry. I'll behave now.
Q: You're not getting your wormy Gaagh dinner until you apologize?
A: Darn right! OOOOH, the nerve of that HUMAN, trying to deny me…. Uh, I mean, I will be honored to answer any of your questions about me or my life. (Just, don't tell Mom, okay???)
Q: Right-o! Next question: What is the deal with your hair?
A: Huh?
Q: Why is it all spiky sometimes and smooth in other times?
A: Oh, that. You remember how I looked before the… human act came along, right? My head had a lovely set of crests and spines along it. I mimicked it from a species I met in a distant galaxy. The way it conducted neural impulses improved my reaction times by nearly a third. I didn't have much time to make too many modifications when creating my human form. It was a bit of me, a bit of the woman I fought, and a bit of something I ate on the way there. So, mostly, you're seeing what I would look like, had I really been born as a human girl. (I can't believe I'm telling you all this!)
Q: And, while we're talking about hair… what do you have against a rabbit-ear style?
TerraA: Do you really need to ask?
Q: They suit you well, actually.
A: What do you mean—AAAH! Who did that to me!?
Q: Don't you like them? They're cuuuute!
A: They look ridiculous on me! The same goes for ponytails.
Q: Why are they flapping, by the way?
A: They aren't flapping… Wait, they are.
Q: Why, Terrifying… you're flying!
Q2: I didn't expect that one to happen. So, miniature personification of the Galactic Destroyer's Ultimate Destructive Power, do you have anything to add before we close this interview?
Q2: Right, then. It's been a pleasure to speak with you. I am… Some Guy, and this has been a demonstration on how Conflict Builds Character. Thank you! G'night!

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July 11, 2003: Minor Characters: It's All in the Details


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