Tuesday, February 20, 2018

How to guide to Characterization

Or I finally figured out why I hated Captain America: Civil War.

With a fucking passion!

Last night I took a test to see who my Avengers' lover would be. Very scientific. It asked me questions like what month I was born in. And what type of Starbucks frappe I like. Very, very scientific. They figured out my personality match for my superhero love of my life based on six questions. And by god I believe them... so after the six questions I was presented with the facts.

Doctor Stephen Strange is the love of my life. Loki is my ex. And Tony Stark is the one who got away.

And now I know that I am drawn to chaos like ants to a picnic.

So... okay... I took a stupid buzzfeed quiz for shits and giggles and somehow my brain wouldn't let this shit rest. I couldn't stand Doctor Strange. The movie was fine. The character was a bag of dicks with a fancy cape. Loki... oh god, seriously, how much do I hate myself to ever have even thought it would work out. And Tony Stark. Sighs... the one who got away... sighs. I adore Tony. I'd murder him in his sleep but I adore Tony. But but but Tony is exactly everything that both Strange and Loki are? So why does the idea of the other two repel me but I swoon at the thought of Stark?

And my brain twisted and twirled and swirled with all of this all night long. I dreamed about this. I know! We have established that I might not be right in the head.

And what the hell does this have to do with how to characterize?

Getting to that.

See the thing about those three particular characters is that they are all Chaotic Characters. And that's why they are all very much alike, though, starkly different. And I am definitely drawn to the Chaotic Character.

A couple of years ago my middle daughter stopped and stared at me and announced for no damned reason whatsoever that I am Chaotic Neutral.

Okay. ???

I guess it helped her deal with my eccentricities better. We get along.

I thrive in chaos. Yet I hate chaos. And I don't intend to create chaos. But my brain is a web of weirdness that sometimes comes out my mouth at the strangest times. The kids never had a clue what I might say at any given moment. No I don't randomly insult people. I do cuss. But I have discussed some not quiet age appropriate things with them so... they got used to it. I work through my book issues aloud sometimes. I don't have adults to talk to. It's made them interesting people.

But yes. I can't function in order. I don't like clutter. But I am not one of those people who likes complete and total order.

I don't know if this is nature or nurture. I've always lived in chaos. I wouldn't know how not to live in chaos. My brain is chaos.

Therefore I identify with that Chaotic Character in fiction. Whether it is literature or film. I will always be drawn to any and all of the Chaotic assigned people. They are the ones who move the story along. They are the ones who make a story come alive. Good or bad. The Chaotic... uh, okay... so...

Remember a few years ago when those Memes with the 9 squares depicting characters from movies came out and they were assigned characterizations? Lawful Good. Lawful Neutral. Lawful Evil... ?


Like this one from Harry Potter?

You have character alignments based on Dungeons and Dragons... I think. I don't know. I never even saw a D&D game... But anyway, this whole concept intrigued me years ago.

The concept is that you have three types. Lawful, Neutral, Chaotic. And three types of personality in each. Good, Neutral, Evil. With the Neutral Neutral being a True Neutral... meaning that character can lean any way or none at all, depending on their whim.

Harry Potter is the very definition of the Chaotic Good character. He is the main character. Everything revolves around him. And his life is complete chaos. Not exactly of his own making but because he has no choice but to take on this evil that has been thrust upon him.

And Voldemort is Neutral Evil... eh... maybe not. I am not sure if I agree with this one. Belatrix is absolutely Chaotic Evil. She thrives in chaos. She creates chaos. She will kill a person for shits and giggles. Voldemort is mildly chaotic. Definitely evil. But he doesn't really fit as Lawful Evil either. Nor does Lucius Malfoy. Precisely. In a way, Lucius is much more a neutral evil because he doesn't seem to have any real conviction to be evil. He likes power. He wants to step into Voldemort's shoes. But doesn't have the crazy to push him over the edge. Which works back around to Voldemort,who has the crazy. He also has the control and the power. And the charisma to make people do as he wants. He teeters between Lawful and Chaotic... able to go one way or the other. While Lucius is just a toady. Who will carry out orders despite not actually wanting to.

So, in a way it fits. Lucius was the top dog while Voldy was moldy. He liked it. He was order. And power. But didn't have the balls to embrace the crazy... While Hermione is the very essence of Lawful Good. And Ron is Neutral Good. Which is why Ron is always torn between the two greater personalities.

The chaos factor pushes the story. The lawful factor controls the story. The neutral factor supports both sides, pushing and tugging and being drawn in against their will and supporting the bigger dog in the fight.

But let's go back to my Avenger lovers.... and apply this concept to them. All three characters, Strange, Loki, and Stark are Chaotic characters.

Loki is obviously Chaotic Evil. There's no arguing that. He is charismatic. Attractive. Manipulative. Conniving. Willing to kill, maim, or sell out his entire family for power. Power that he doesn't actually want, but thinks he wants, when he craves the chaos that comes from watching all the worlds burn. And Thor, his brother, and rival, and best friend, and hated nemesis is Chaotic Good. I've seen Thor listed as Neutral Good. He's not. I believe in their own realm, outside the Avengers, in Asgard, that Odin is the Neutral Good between his chaos driven sons. Thor does not want power. He wants adventure and quests. He is a free spirit out for the fun of saving the world. Beer is his only reward. Loki and Thor are two sides of the same coin.

I should qualify this as MCU and not comics. MCU stands for Marvel Cinematic Universe. So the movie's depiction of the characters. I haven't read a comic book in thirty years or more. I can't speak to their characterization.

Then there's Strange... I've not seen him labeled anywhere, so my thoughts on his character are my own. Strange is Neutral Chaotic. He was as a surgeon before he lost the use of his hands, he is more so after finding magic. It's not the magic that created his Chaos. He is highly intelligent. Highly competitive. He craves control and havoc. Driving at night in the rain speeding for the thrill of it around hairpin curves while on the phone thinking himself immortal... this is chaos out of control. He is a thrill junkie. But  the power of being the best in his profession, of being the dick, the one who loathes and ridicules all lesser mortals... controls his chaotic impulses... making him ideal for stepping into power in the magic realm. He is control. He is able to let go of that control and embrace the crazy. His intelligence knows no bounds. He is neutral chaos. He can so very easily slip into evil chaos at any moment... it would be fun to watch him descend into that madness. This keeps him out of Lawful Chaotic.

Which means that Tony Stark... is Lawful Chaotic. Now. Civil War Era Tony Stark is Lawful Chaotic. Iron Man 1 Tony Stark was Neutral Chaotic, closer to becoming Evil Chaotic than any of them. He had no empathy, he had no sympathy. He was brilliant, and spoiled, and wanted to watch the world burn. He was his father's son. He could not please his father when he was alive. He could not escape his father's shadow after his death. He didn't care who he hurt or the lives he destroyed because he didn't see that part of the world he created. He was walking the thin line between good and evil and never even knew it. Creating chaos where ever he went. Avengers Era Tony Stark is absolutely Neutral Chaotic. He knows he has sinned. He moved away from the brink when he grew a conscience. But he remained neutral because he could so easily create something like Ultron. He had the best of intentions. But his creation was corrupted. If he hadn't created Ultron he would never have moved into Lawful Chaos... his guilt at almost destroying the world nearly destroyed him. And he became what he hated... at the end of Civil War Tony almost became Lawful Neutral. Out of guilt. He controlled his Chaotic personality until he almost lost it. And by doing so he lost the essence of Tony Stark.

So, why did I  hate Civil War?

Steve Rogers.

I understood Tony's motivations. Meeting the woman by the elevator after he granted millions of dollars in guilt money to students showed me Tony's motivations. Tony had grown from Chaotic Neutral into Chaotic Good as Iron Man for a brief time. He wanted to save the world he almost destroyed. And then Ultron happened. And Ultron wiped out every little piece of good he'd done in one fell swoop. Ultron tumbled him into Chaotic Evil territory. The mad scientist who created a monster level Chaotic Evil. And now he is atoning for that. He will forever be atoning for that one mistake. At the beginning of Civil War, Iron Man is no more. Tony is over being a super hero. He has progressed to managing the super heroes. He is now Lawful Chaotic.

The world council or whatever, pushed Tony into the role of Lawful Neutral. A role he accepted but couldn't stomach. He saw the bigger picture. He didn't want to register, but he saw it as the lesser of evils. He saw it as retaining what control he had to be able to continue to save the world... even from himself.

I got that. I didn't agree with it. But that was very clearly spelled out in the movie. We saw it coming in Ultron. Even before Ultron was created. We saw him unhappy with being part of team. Being second to another. We saw the mantle of leadership weighing heavy on him. And the jealousy of losing that mantle to Captain America.

Tony's motivations were very clearly explained in Civil War.

Steve Rogers' were not.

I'm not fond of Captain America. I'll say that much. Cap is Lawful Good. Cap is a Boy Scout. He is all that's good about everything forever and amen. Cap is incorruptible. Cap killed the Nazis. Cap is idealized patriotism to the extreme. He was in the first Captain America movie. He was in the first Avengers' movie.

Steve was also very naive. He went into the ice an idealist. He came out of the ice to a world ideology that he didn't recognize. If he had not gone into the ice he would have likely continued to be exactly what he was. The war ended. Peace happened. He might have helped form SHIELD. He would have worked with Howard Stark. He would have married Agent Carter. He would have lived a nice life. Steve Rogers would have never become a spy. He was too much of a Boy Scout for espionage work. He would never have become a mercenary. He would have most likely stayed in the Army and trained soldiers. Maybe he and Peggy wouldn't have worked. She was not a girl scout, or in her case, girl guide. Steve would have remained Lawful Good for the rest of his life.

But he went into the ice and came out to a world that had descended into chaos, this time more insidious than even he could understand. The line between good and evil had blurred to the point he couldn't tell the good guys from the bad guys.

The Winter Soldier was a masterpiece of storytelling. Steve stopped being a boy scout in Winter Soldier. His naiveté finally abolished. Every truth he clung to obliterated. Steve lost himself in that movie. He lost the Lawful Good in this movie. He became Lawful Neutral without even knowing that he'd compromised his own ethics. Because he didn't. Not yet. But before he found out his best friend and soul mate Bucky Barnes was alive and evil as fuck, Steve would never have lost that essence of what made him Captain America. Bucky blurred his lines. In the end he didn't compromise himself. But he was close.

In Ultron, Steve embraced his Lawful Good. He embraced it so hard he was white knuckling his way through life, trying to cling to the person he'd been before Bucky. Trying to cling to that world that was gone. We see this in the beginning when he admonishes Tony for his language. This is Steve hanging on to Captain America with all ten fingers and even some toes. Steve was going to die the Boy Scout or die trying by god. Despite the blurred grey lines that now lurked outside his margins.

At the end of Ultron we see Steve slip into Lawful Neutral when he took the word of the Scarlet Witch, the one who he knew could control minds, over his friend. This is where Steve Rogers lost Captain America the first time. He was prepared to believe the absolute worst about a man he'd known for a few years from an unreliable source. Not saying Tony is innocent... Tony is fighting his own personality at this point remember. Not saying he was wrong to take her side. I'm saying that he allowed himself to be manipulated, by a person he knew to be working for the wrong side... despite everything he'd ever displayed in the history of his entire character. Steve Rogers became corruptible.

But I still didn't hate Ultron. I didn't love Ultron. I understand that characters grow. I understand that characters change. All of the Avengers' characters had changed. But none as much as Tony and Steve.

I knew all of this going into Civil War... but even with that one small digression in Steve's character, he never displayed any real motivation for his actions. Yes, his Lawful Neutral personality balked at being controlled by the council. He had a right to refuse that. He didn't understand why Tony was for it. But he'd never understood Tony. And Tony was acting highly out of character.

I was fine with the movie until the mid-point. The petty squabbling that was Tony and Steve finally realizing they were two sides of the same coin was coming to a head. As it should. There could only be one leader. Neither Tony, nor Steve were followers. It was coming.

And then it all went tits up.

Steve lost his goddamned mind over Bucky. Steve, who had never fully embraced Lawful Neutral, who was still struggling to retain his Lawful Good... became Neutral Chaotic.

Tony and Steve switched their roles. Completely. All because Bucky makes Steve question his sexuality... not even going to pretend that isn't what it's all about. Not even a Stucky Shipper. Steve lost his god damned mind over a man. He went completely against character. For the love of his life. But instead of showing this as a motivation, we get this bullshit, Tony is the oppressor and won't believe him about Bucky, so let's hide all the facts from the only fact oriented person in the group and run off half cocked with our sycophant to save... what? What was he fighting for? To control his own destiny? Or to keep his lover from harm? And let's drag in all of these people under false pretenses, on both sides, because neither of us are man enough to face our own damned issues... because we are not the people we thought we were...

It's the classic non communication trope. If Steve had told Tony the facts, Tony would have sided with him. And done everything in his power to assist. Because that was Tony's wheel house.

But no, in the end, this wasn't a civil war, it was a bad divorce, forcing their friends to pick sides.

And even in the very end when he had Tony on his side. Even in the end when it came down to it, Bucky murdered Tony's parents, in cold blood. And Steve tried to murder Tony... to protect his compromised friend. And we're supposed to walk out of that movie thinking Captain America is a hero.
 For no good goddamned reason.

When he's a flawed, deeply conflicted, anti-hero... just like Tony Stark.

Until Civil War the progression of the two characters was a marvel... pun intended... You could learn how to write believable characters, with motivations, and assume that they are going to, at some point, transcend. There was careful crafting of one. The other... not so much. If they'd had the guts to take that step farther, Bucky being the love of his life, instead, Steve was forced into an awkward, mildly incestuous, kiss with the niece of the first love of his life. If they'd stuck with the theme that he'd lost one, he damn well wasn't going to lose the other... but it was now okay to shag a woman just because she had Peggy's blood running through her veins...

Steve's progression could have only gone one way, he could only become less Captain America. The writer's chose to erase the lines completely and plunge him into a whole new alignment. And for what?

To set up the next movie?

Civil War was retconning at it's worst.

I hope you learned a little something from this ramble. I'm not a teacher by any means. I get it. Not sure if I can ever explain it correctly.

The best books and movies have complex characters. This chart helps define a character based on his/her motivations.

Do I use it? Hell, yes.

And if you didn't already know, I am partial to the Chaotic characters.

Levi Brody would be the Neutral Chaotic of the Scrimmage Series.

Hope you're still here... my, this turned out to be really long.



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