Attack of the Uber MC: Thriller Main Character Assassinates Interest in Book
I ‘inherited’ a few hardback thrillers from my mom’s ex-roommate, and some of them are fine. It was my first brush with Jack Reacher, for one thing. Lee Child is ok.
And some of them are…exceptionally shallow. Like, if it was a puddle, my heel would remain dry if I stepped barefoot in it.
And many of them center around a particular character. You know him.
He is ex-marine, CIA, or FBI.
I mean, I get that these books are geared toward older dudes who want to imagine that they are the toughest of the tough and have plots centered around taking out criminals. That makes an army or law enforcement background inevitable.
But he isn’t just a retired Navy vet or a beat cop. Hellllll no! He is the top of every division, everywhere, of the toughest outfits.
And in the case of ‘G-Man,’ he is the founder of the FBI’s armory, training plan, and the guy who shot Dillinger.
He is a gun expert. He is the most expert of experts in shooting and owning guns. He is one with guns in the same way Buddhists are one with the universe. He communes with the artillery on a spiritual level.
He don’t have no fancy larnin’ neither. He is street smart, a simple family man, who feeelllls his way to the perfect solution, regardless of circumstance.
In ‘G-man,’ his greatness is genetic. He is a sort of down-home royalty, whose superiority in law-enforcement is a product of special breeding and not any training. (As in, you know, eugenics.)
Also, everyone and their mother must acknowledge this man’s greatness at every turn. The main man’s smarts is compared to those wussy college-educated fellows, and his superiority must be rubbed in at every single opportunity.
It sets my teeth on edge and makes me want to write a short story in which Mr. Salt-of-the-Earth-Chosen-One is outwitted by a college graduate who simply takes advantage of this trope’s assumption of his weakness. Someone who is wheelchair-bound and never handles a weapon is shunted aside by Mr. Good-ol’-boy for his ‘obvious’ uselessness, and then finds Mr. Good-ol’-boy crawling back to him on hands and knees when it becomes clear that his problem isn’t one that can be shot away but requires some ‘of that thar book larnin’.’
I resist writing this story, though, because I think Mr. G-man Ex-marine comes from humiliation and fear, not to mention a persecution complex.
The fact is that most of life’s problems can’t be eliminated through a perfect sniper shot, and most of us spend some time listening to someone more learned in a given subject, feeling dumb for having to trust this rando because of some situation beyond our control. This main character lets readers take some of that control back in their imagination.
Because, in the book, you (the reader insert) are the smart one in every given circumstance. You don’t really need to wade through those books of dense prose that make your head hurt to figure out how to navigate in this world, and anyone who makes you feel small can be fixed by a quick upper-cut to the chin.
And, reality check here: We are rotten to middle-class folks who don’t have college educations. In real life, people with blue-collar backgrounds get talked down to all the time. It’s even worse if you are on the poorer side and are subject to the moral snipers who want to dictate what you eat and tut-tut if you aren’t in total agreement with them. It’s a class that has been getting kicked for a long time.
In contrast, there are a lot of Baby Geniuses in fiction with unbearably high-falutin’ backgrounds who always think the deepest thoughts. The aesthetics are a bit different, but they are still the center of the fictional universe. They get to play with all the coolest toys because they are so special, whether the preferred toy is a computer program or a cannon. Their lineage is spotless and designates them as the leader back to Adam, whether that leadership means head of the college or the head of the FBI. Everyone praises them and acknowledges their superiority.
Either one always is right, gets all the hit points, and makes a spectacular rescue of the best sort.
It is a fantasy people like and perhaps need, and I would be a real pain in the tush to shame anyone for reveling in it just because some flavor of it annoys me personally.
My Big Complaints
But everyone whines about the feminine girl version of this. If a spunky 16-year-old discovers she’s secretly a fairy-princess with five guys drooling over her, we sniff and snark. The wombs like a silly wish-fulfillment character. Clearly, only the weak-minded do that!
And there is a real threat with these fantasy characters. Writers using them often stop the plot every chapter to praise their main character in the most ham-fisted way possible. It stretches out the book to an insane degree and annoys readers who aren’t jerking off to the main character.
They can also evaporate the tension. They are so overpowered, who the hell cares if they are facing the evilest villain? They always win, and the worst part is how often other characters around them (the college-educated wuss, in this case) is made out to be the dumbest waste of space to ever exist. Then you can’t even care about the characters and their side-plots.
Can you just have people shut up about your MC’s greatness for most of the book? That would be great.