Ahem... *looks straight at you* You're screwed up, man. I mean it, you're mental. There's something that's not right about you, you're off.. in the head.
My dear readers.. you are damaged.
Take heart, however, for so am I. So is your best friend, your spouse, and yes, sadly.. even despite your best efforts.. even your children are damaged.
The human condition is one of damage. Damage is how we learn, it's how we grow. They say that we learn from our mistakes. This is a fallacy. We don't learn from making mistakes.. we learn from the damage inflicted on account of those mistakes.
Like the saying goes, "It's not the fall that kills you.. it's the sudden stop at the end."
Think about it.. if you make a mistake by yourself, with nobody watching.. does it impact you? If you are a writer, (such as myself), and you spell a word wrong and you get the squiggly red line of death on your screen.. do you feel ashamed? Do you promise yourself that you'll never allow that to happen again? Or are you like me.. you simply hit spell check, or right click on the squiggle and fix the word and move on, forgetting it the second after it's done.
OK.. maybe spelling a word wrong wouldn't affect you like that, but you'd certainly remember the spelling of the word after that, wouldn't you?
Damage we endure teaches us.. not only physical damage, emotional, social, mental, every aspect of our lives endures damage from time to time. This is how we learn what is appropriate behavior in society, in our professions, in our families, in our relationships.
So.. doesn't it make sense that our heroe's.. our villians, even our secondary characters, should all be damaged? What makes a book come alive? It's when we can put ourselves in the story.. when you read something and you're not 'reading' but there, alongside the characters, living the story.
So how do we relate to a character that hasn't experienced failure? Who isn't damaged?
So what should we writers do? It's easy.. kick the crap out of your babies. (Figuratively speaking of course)
Knock your hero down. Then when he starts to get back up.. knock him down again. Make him try.. and fail, again and again and again and... even Batman knows..
"Why do we fall down, Bruce?"
"So we can learn to pick ourselves up again."
Look at recent examples from the most popular selling authors of recent history.
(Slight Spoiler alert!)
Just going from examples that come quickly to mind:
Girl with the Dragon Tattoo: Starts out with the journalist Hero being convicted of fabricating a story.
Hunger Games: Starts out with the Hero being forced to join a Death Match.
Harry Potter: Hero is orphaned and forced to be a 2nd class citizen to his Cousin.
Talk about a motley group of damaged heroes. All huge selling series of books, all with protagonists, (and antagonists, and friends, and...), who are severely damaged. Whether by unforseen powerful forces, or by circumstances, or society, or a combination of all of those and more.. their defining characteristic is the damage they endure, and their struggle to overcome it.
So.. to end this little tirade, a quote from an actor who I consider to be the most brilliant of our modern era. No other actor has this range, this talent, or this ability to portray damaged characters in such a brilliant way.
"We're all damaged in our own way. Nobody's perfect. I think we are all somewhat screwy, every single one of us." -- Johnny Depp.