I’ve been watching a lot of BBC Planet Earth lately. I love seeing all the beautiful places and amazing animals. The level of emotional investment I put into the poor pika getting chased by the fox is ridiculous. But I get so upset when the fox wins and the poor little pika dies.
But then I watch the one with the polar bear. And the polar bear gets stuck swimming across the melting ice. He passes the point of no return and can’t get back home unless he finds food. The poor polar bear finds an ice island of walruses! He tries to get one, but they hurt him with their big, scary tusks, and wounded beyond the ability to hunt, he starves within sight of food, stranded far from land.
And then I realized, I am a horrible hypocrite. On the one hand, the death of the pika makes me cry, but on the other, the fact that the polar bear can’t munch on a fatty walrus hide makes me want to kick the walrus in his pointy, evil little tusks. It’s all in the presentation. BBC looks at the footage and decides who the villain is going to be. I know it’s the circle of life and all that mushy stuff, but siding with the predator or the prey is really all a matter of presentation.
And it’s the same with the characters we create. When we’re dealing with a love triangle, the author could very easily tip the scales to make one boy win the heart of the girl. Even if she started off dating the other guy. By keeping the same circumstances but presenting a sympathetic narration, you could also make the boyfriend seem like the clear and obvious choice.
There are some characters you could never really turn into a hero. Voldemort, for example. But you can make a vampire either the good guy or the scary monster. It all depends on the presentation. The interloper may be a hero or the jerk that ruins everything. We as authors have a huge responsibility to decide who our protagonist will be, and it is then our job to make you agree that yes, in fact, our hero is worth your love. Even if a walrus has to die for him to survive the journey home.