Awesome vs. Better Than You: In Action

Yesterday’s article talked about ways that different versions of the same sort of interaction could mark a character as leaning farther towards Awesome or Better Than You. But it’s not just interaction, it’s also action; what sorts of actions, either behavior or plot-event, tilt a character in a different direction?

An Awesome character tries. This doesn’t just mean “does things that she’s practically guaranteed to succeed at because she’s Just That Awesome”. The Awesome character is, as likely as not, pushing every limit she finds, to the point where it seems just as likely that she’s going to fail as to succeed. If she’s overwhelmed, she starts casting about for other ideas; some succeed, some fail. A Better Than You character might do the same thing, but it’s as likely as not that there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind whether she’s going to succeed or not. If she doesn’t already have the skill for it, she unlocks some hidden power that allows her to prevail, usually at the moment of greatest dramatic tension. But more likely she’s choosing her battles carefully, only taking the ones where she’s positive she’s going to win.

An Awesome character fails. Yes, that’s right, fails, particularly early in or midway through the story. She does something that can never be taken back, she loses something important to her because of her own mistakes. But when that happens, she looks back, figures out what she did wrong, picks up the pieces, tries to balance out the damage she did, and moves forward. The Better Than You character, on the other hand, just doesn’t do that. Sure, she has the perception to tell other people where they messed up and how they can pick up the pieces, but if it’s through experience it sure as heck isn’t through experience we’ve seen onstage. If she screws up, it’s really no big deal, or even treated as a technical victory—or if it’s a real screwup, without a subsequent rescue from the plot, she never gets over it. Worse, she interprets ‘acknowledging one’s own faults is a good thing’ as being a good reason to angst for months or years on end about that one great mistake—though at least this stops when she breezes through whatever it takes to symbolically wipe away the shame and the pain of the mistake. Perhaps it’s even undone for her.

Your mileage may vary on this one, but I find Awesome characters are understated (or at least not overstated) unless the situation requires spectacle. A Better Than You character is larger than life in all she says, does, and is, whether larger than life is what’s needed or not; it doesn’t matter what she’s trying to do, she will do it in such a way as to draw all attention. Particularly narrate. With an Awesome character, on the other hand, if it seems like the showiness of whatever she’s doing is even remotely deliberately, rather than just a side effect of how she operates naturally, it’s probably because she, not just her narrator, needs the showiness for part of what she’s doing.

After all, many of us are better at action than talk, so being able to distinguish Awesome from Better Than You through action is an important skill.

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