Thursday, September 13, 2007

Lucius Vorenus, Titus Pullo and YOU!

posted by Aunty Cindy

Last night, I finished watching the DVDs of the HBO series Rome including the “Bonus Features.” During the latter, a comment made by one of the show’s creators really resonated with me. He said that people were attracted to the show because of the characters. One minute, viewers would say, “Wow! Those people are just like me!” Then five minutes later they would say, “Wow! Those people are nothing like me!”

I couldn’t agree more, and I believe the same duality is true of all fictional characters. The audience needs to be able to identify with a character’s traits and actions, but at the same time, the character must go far beyond most ordinary human beings.

In Rome, it’s easy to identify with and like the character Lucius Vorenus. He is honorable, courageous, and highly moral in all his deeds. We would all like to think we too could be as noble and upstanding, and we love watching his character.

However, I know I’m not the only one who finds myself even more intrigued by Vorenus’ comrade and nearly polar opposite, Titus Pullo. Most of the time, Pullo is ultra-violent, killing and maiming anyone with seemingly no conscience. He is an amoral, drunken, whoring brute who never seems to think about his actions beyond how he can be instantly gratified. His character is exaggerated to the extreme, and he is not like someone you would ever hope to be! And yet… he is infinitely fascinating to watch! The few moments within the series when Pullo showed his sensitive, caring nature, or when he actually understood something beyond his own immediate need were my favorites.

Am I alone in my weirdness?

Think about some of your favorite characters. Were you drawn to them because they were
just like you? Or did the attraction lay in them being nothing like you?

Your inquiring Aunty wants to know!


Anna Campbell said...

Ha. AC! You tricked me! When I saw the title, I thought it had to be our resident Romanophile, Joan. But no, IT'S YOU!

What an intriguing post. I think you've hit on some really profound things here in your inimitable witty style. I agree with you about larger than life characters being compelling but if they're completely beyond my understanding, I can't put myself in their place and live the story through their eyes. I think a lot of that comes back to the skills of the writer. I think a really great writer can create that human to human bond between any characters, however far they are outside my individual experience.

Hmm, need to think some more about this. Great post, AC!

Christie Kelley said...

Great post, AC. And you fooled me too.

I think Anna had a really good point in that you have to be able to understand the character. Even if they're nothing like you. Some piece of their character has to be sympathic to the reader (or viewer). I recently read a chapter for a contest and that was my biggest issue with the entry. I felt no sympathy for one of the characters to the point that I really coudn't care what happened to them.

There has to be something in each character that we can understand even (especially) if that character is over the top.

Caren Crane said...

Aunty Cindy, I think you have (once again) hit the nail on the head. I think what many writers struggle with is balance. The "good" characters can't be too good. The "bad" characters can't be too bad. At least, if you listen to reviewers. *g*

Personally, I have little use for middle-of-the-road, namby-pamby characters. I like them a bit over-the-top or dark-dark-dark. As Christine and Anna pointed out, though, they must be human. The OTT characters must be as vulnerable as everyone else deep inside and the DDD characters must have some glimmers of compassion.

I am always drawn to the larger-than-life characters with bits of humanity. Does anyone watch House? That is a great show with an unsympathetic hero that you can't help but like--after you get to know him.

TV is a great medium for these types of characters, because you get to see them week after week in different situations. In books, we have one story to tell and are fighting with TV for our reader's attention. Hopefully, they will stick with our stories as the characters unfold and not pitch it after Chapter 1!

Kirsten said...

So if AC hits a nail on the head, does she do it with her crop?

(sorry, Caren, had to do it!)

Seriously, though, I loved this post because it raises a question I wrestle with in our genre--what's the deal with those alpha men, anyway? Why do we find them so attractive? Would we want them in real life?

I think in response to my own questions, which also go to AC's questions, the beauty of fiction is that it allows us to empathize with we might hate in real life. By cunningly giving villians real weaknesses and vulnerabilities, authors make them attractive and empathetic. We can see their humanity even if it is locked in a rude/violent/alpha male shell. Whereas in real life, we can't get past the shell. We see what the person has done or is capable of doing, and we stop there. We don't know about those vulnerabilities and weaknesses. We only know the bad stuff. So we lose their humanity. Writing allows us to be better than we are in real life.

Or...maybe they're just sexy and who doesn't like a sweaty, sexy man in a gladiator outfit, anyway? :-)

Suzanne Welsh said...

Interesting post AC...any Romand era romances in your future?

Have you ever watched Dog, the Bounty Hunter? I find both Dog and his wife Beth fascinating. He is very alpha male, and while I don't go for tatooed, leather sporting, pierced and long haired men who smoke in my regular life, I love this guy on TV. And when you juxtapose his relationship with Beth and their kids, and the kindness he shows people after he hunts them down, it is all very fascinating.

jo robertson said...

Well, you already know how I feel about Pullo, AC. He gets even more complex as a character in Season 2. When he sees his supposed son for the first time, he has this s**t-eating grin on his face, bursting with pride, but what he says is, "Humph, thought he'd be bigger."

I adore that series. Curses on whatever non-intellectual, nonthinking nonviewers caused its demise!

I think the most interesting characters are those with bad and good traits because we can always identify with one or the other. It's sort of like "Thank God, I'm not like that" or "I could be like that if I didn't rein myself in."

Aunty Cindy said...

Hi Gang!
I thought you all might be surprised that *I* was posting about Rome but since I swapped days with Joan, I figured it was appropriate. :-) Plus as a history major from waaay back in the day, I've always LOVED the Roman Empire. No, Suz, I don't see a Roman Historical in my near future, but I never say "never!"

Foanna and Christie, that universal humanity displayed by the characters are what drew me into the series in the first place -- desire, ambition, loyalty.

And you're right Caren, if this had been a book with Pullo as the main character, I'd have probably chucked it after chapter 1 or 2. The first few episodes I watched purely because of my sympathy for Vorenus. Pullo annoyed me no end! But about halfway through -- oh along about the time he developed a soft spot for the slave girl -- he really started to grow on me. So much so that I was literally YELLING at Vorenus to "...get in there and SAVE PULLO!" during the arena scene. LOL! I guess I haven't watched House enough for him to grow on me yet, because I still find him ANNOYING!

who is now BEGGING Jo-Mama to loan me Season Two

Aunty Cindy said...

Kirsten, watch out Girlie or a flick of the crop is coming YOUR WAY! HA!

But I TOTALLY AGREE with you! In real life, I'd b*tch-slap one of those Alpha heroes within the first 5 minutes. HAHAHAHA! But reading about them, or watching them on TV or films is that Whole 'Nother Story! My FAVE villains are the ones who do show that they are multi-demensional and have a vulnerable side... like Darth Vader! Because, as Jo-Mama says, deep down we know that WE too might be like that given certain circumstances!

Oh and hot bods in gladiator outfits OR LESS (just saw 300 last night -- RRRROWR!)never hurt either. LOL!

Suz, I haven't seen Dog the Bounty Hunter. Is it out on DVD since I'm waaay too cheap to get cable?!?!


Nancy said...

You make some great points, AC. I like characters with whom I identify but who go beyond where I would go--ones who're more daring or better at science or better at thinking first and talking later.

I do need something, as Anna says, that makes me feel that I understand them. I'd never be a Free Amazon of Darkover, for example, but I know where they're coming from. I can understand why they made the choice they did.

I don't care whether it's literature or TV or movies, nor does it matter what genre's involved. The characters are the meat of it.

Cassondra said...

Great Post Auntie C.

I don't watch tv, so I don't know this series, but it's true that I can identify with almost anybody IF the writer gives me something--even a small thing--to hang that identification on.

I think the key for me is motivation. And one thing I CAN'T abide is a heroine who DOES NOT b*tch slap a hero when he's being stupid--UNLESS she's motivated not to. That's the key to the alpha males for me. I know they need a butt kicking, and no way would I stay around UNLESS I had extreme motivation.

And following that, I can't believe they will be redeemed unless I understand where they came from and see the inner journey.

The painting of the unsympathetic character is one of the most difficult for me as a storyteller. They are fascinating when done well. Part of it for me I think is the need to understand them and see them redeemed.

Beth said...

Great post, AC! I almost picked up the DVD of Rome the last time I was at the video store. I'll have to make sure I get it this weekend *g*

I have to be able to empathize with a character but that doesn't mean they have to be like me. I prefer a character (whether good, bad or indifferent) has a strong motivation for acting a certain way or at least gives me glimpses of redeeming qualities ;-)

Helen said...

I haven't seen this show but I always try to see the good in people which isn't always easy and sometimes it just isn't there at all I watch House and he is a real ass but I love him not sure what it is that draws me to him but I think he is fantastic. With reading some characters are not very nice in the beginning but as you get more into the book you are drawn to them for different reasons. Great post AC has really made me think.
Have Fun

Aunty Cindy said...

You said it, Nancy! "The characters are the meat of it."

I don't care HOW ingenious the plot is or how fascinating the setting, I have to CARE about the people in it!

Cassondra and Beth, as you know I am NOT a TV watcher either. (Helen, I think I've seen 2 whole episodes of House which is undoubtedly why he still annoys me!) But I do recommend this series. Sure, you KNOW the story about Cesar and Marc Antony (James Purefoy...full frontal! HUBBA HUBBA!) and the Roman Senate. But seeing it from the perspective of Vorenus and Pullo makes it fascinating!

And I'm LOVING this discussion of empathy and character motivations, alpha heroes and multi-faceted villains! MORE! MORE!! Keep the comments and insights coming!


Aunty Cindy said...

As one of our Bandita Readers Extaordinaire, care to share some of your favorite characters with us?

Thanx a BUNCH!

Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

A good example of a morally repugnant character on TV but one who you can't help watching is T-Bag from Prison Break. You hope he gets caught in the end, but they show how he became the horrible person he is and you almost feel sorry for him. And the show would be less interesting without him.

Helen said...

Some of my favourite characters from books Kylemore from Anna's CTC I was drawn to him from the start of the book somehow knowing that there must have been reasons for his determinatin to have Soraya and I felt a lot had to do with his mother and then there is Inigo Linsley from Rules of Gentility By Janet Mullaney such a different hero so easy going and fun loving but still responsible enough to be a loving father to his son but still determined enough to want Philomena and get her. There are probably lots more but the memory isn't as good as it used to be. Thanks AC great post.
Have Fun

jo robertson said...

Jo-Mama has another dirty little secret to confess. Cassondra, you don't have to worry because I watch enough TV for you and half the state of Kentucky.

And Trish, T-Bag is the character you love to hate! He's one of the best bad guys I've seen in a long time. But I have to say my fav villian in that show was Abruzzi, and I was really sorry to see him get killed. Again, LOL.

Oh, and AC, if I don't get on the treadmill soon, you may NEVER get Season 2.

Aunty Cindy said...

Thanx Helen!
Haven't read "Rules..." yet, but Foana's Kylemore is indeed one of those multi-demensional well motivated characters who might not BE like you, but you can empathize with him anyway!

Trish, I've heard sooo much about "Prison Break" (and it all sounds good!) that I may have to move it to the top of my DVD list!

OFF TO THE TREADMILL WITH YOU, Jo-mama! (AC flicks her crop over-head) I MUST HAVE Season 2 ! MUST, I tell you!


Trish Milburn aka Tricia Mills said...

Jo, I liked Abruzzi too. And what about Agent Mahone? And though this isn't in the same category as really bad guys, I hated to see Tweener get killed.

Christine Wells said...

AC, fantastic post! I missed Rome here but I definitely want to see it now.

I think you're right. I've always enjoyed characters who are bigger, better and brighter than I am but there's no denying the appeal of the ordinary heroine to whom extraordinary events occur. I think they have to rise to the occasion, though, and be heroic or what's the point? In commercial fiction, that is.

There are some things characters do which are so alien to me I can't get past it. Eg, the chick-lit heroine who put her divorce papers in the fridge next to the mayonnaise for a month. Perhaps it's because I'm a former lawyer but that just gave me the irrits and I didn't believe in the character after that.

Then there's the villain, who can be so much more interesting than the hero sometimes (Guy of Gisborne, anyone) if well motivated.

Thought provoking post, as usual, AC! I shall have to ponder this further.

Joan said...

Whoa, AC!

When I saw the title of your post I thought "Did I write it?" LOL.
Thanks for switching.

I watch a fair amount of TV but do not have HBO. So during the two seasons of ROME (Jo-Mama...they didn't cancel was only designed to run through Augustus' ascent to the throne)I would dutifully go to my CP partner's house and watch it.

I started out liking Vorenus but after Season Two I thought "Get over yourself". WHY Pullo was so devoted to him is beyond me.

But I adored Pullo. Even when he did go berserker and slit throats and "entertain" Cleopatra, I thought "Oh, he's just had a bad day" LOL

I'm gonna ask Santa for the DVD I think to go with my nifty ROME T-shirt :-)

Oh, and YOU ARE A HISTORIAN? OMG, all this time and YOU could have told me what was in garum :-)(besides fish)

Aunty Cindy said...

Christine, divorce papers in the fridge? I can see where that would 'chill' your lawyer sensibilities. LOL!

Though I have to tell you that I keep important papers that are NOT in my safe deposit box in my freezer, but I have excellent motivation. In the early 1990s a devastating fire in the Oakland hills left dozens of homes destroyed. Since we are not that far away, there was EXTENSIVE news coverage of the damage. In most every case, the only things recognizable in the rubble were major appliances like washer, dryer and fridge. I figured my washer and dryer get too much use, so my spare car key, and copies of my ins. policies and a few other items have resided in a plastic container inside my freezer ever since!

Joanie T. I hope Santa grants your wish, HOWEVER, remember that you must be a good little girl... :-P
And by the end of Season 1, I was pretty fed up with Vorenus' sanctimonius attitudes too. Pullo was MY MAN!

Please do not call me an Historian. That was about 100 years ago and most of my studies centered on Western Europe from the Middle Ages on, near as I can remember.....

Thanx for the great comments everyone!
who has NO CLUE about garum