The Myth About Stoic Endurance That, Removed, Enlivens A Narrative

A character’s petty response to trials creates surprises and organic, fulfilling twists in fiction.

Here is a useful myth for you to deconstruct: People who do heroic things are dignified while in action.

Dynamic characters change, obviously. Change is often painful, both physically and emotionally.

People respond in many ways to physical pain, but the real rainbow of behavior emerges in humanity’s response to emotional pain.

Exploit the lies, the running away, the fake-bravado, and the shallow hypocrisy that many people will display in the face of overwhelming emotional pain, and you will have hit on a comedic goldmine in your fiction.

Stoic Characterization:

Gorgonzo hung the sheath of the golden dagger against his belt, and drew a deep and heartfelt sigh. This dragon, he reflected, was giving him an unendurable headache. The deeper problem was the troubling and persistent feeling of being in the wrong that Verity brought him. Verity, Gorgonzo thought with gritted teeth, was altogether too pure and innocent. Verity made him ashamed of his previous life.

Petty (and realistic) Characterization:

“I’ve decided to give up our partnership. I want to go back to being a peasant farmer,” Gorgonzo told Verity. He unbuckled the golden dagger that bound him to the female dragon, and laid it at her feet.

Verity stared at Gorgonzo through glittering golden eyes.

“Oh, stop looking at me like that!” Gorgonzo exclaimed. He felt his insides shifting uneasily. “I miss hoeing weeds, all right?”

Verity rose up to her full length, and breathed a sheathing purple flame around Gorgonzo’s body. Unbearable heat flooded his veins, and his heart became calm and still. The purple fire died away, and Gorgonzo glared at Verity. He bent down, and snatched up the golden dagger.

“If we haven’t destroyed the Orb of Malice within a week, I’m really leaving,” he warned the massive dragon. Verity blinked, and watched Gorgonzo stomp towards his crystal armor.

Petty behavior can lend a feeling of immediacy and relatability to your heroes. Beware the myth of stoicism, and embrace (within reason) petty, self-serving, and short-sighted behavior.