More Lessons From The Last Airbender

"Why am I so bad at being good?" Zuko - The Western Air Temple
I've been reading my own YA fantasy and thinking a lot about The Last Airbender as I do. What's stuck in my head is the character, Zuko. He's the villain in the first season, a villain that starts toward redemption and switches back to villain in the second season, reluctant villain in the beginning of the third and then completely switches sides in the end to join the heroes. It all goes back to what I talked about in my last blog post. If you're writing about young people, remember they are growing and learning and will take steps back. Zuko is a perfect example of this.

I've been thinking a lot about his back and forth. How he lets his anger get in his own way. How his strong sense of honor often leads him to do the right thing even if he wants to do the "wrong" thing. How he refuses to give up on his "quest" of capturing the Avatar to regain his father's approval even when faced with great obstacles (mental and physical). How he gets tempted so easily to the dark side when the path to do good has fewer obstacles than being bad. How he holds firmly to the "truth" even when it is shown to be a lie. How he fails miserably in his attempts to be a teenager. He is a sixteen year old working toward becoming a man and embodies all of the conflicts that one faces when reaching adulthood. Zuko's transformation into a hero isn't an easy path and he hurts others on his journey. Of course, his path toward redemption includes opportunities for him to make amends so he can fully realize his potential as one of the heroes.

Sometimes we need our characters to say or do things we don't like. Sometimes we have to put them through hell for them to grow and get to where we need them to be. Poor Zuko, those writers literally put him through the wringer over and over again, but which character has captured my imagination, you guessed it, Zuko.


  1. So true! I find a hard time balancing the traits of people and end up with the cliche perfect protag and evil antag. LOL

  2. Yes, the perfect protag and the evil antag is very easy to slip into. Having your antag have "good" traits or a reason behind his/her actions can be harder than just making him bad. Though truly evil antags are also very difficult to write, because it can be easy to fall into the cliches.

    The perfect protag is even more insidious. We want people to like and relate to our hero, but if they are perfect where's the growth. We like our hero or we wouldn't be writing him/her. LOL. Yet, we have to put them through awful times so they can grow and have that all important arc. Maybe even have them make bad choices or even have them do something bad.

    I always try to keep in mind Joss Whedon's wise words. "Buffy happy - ratings go down. Buffy sad - ratings go up." This is the fundamental reason you will never see a happy couple longer than 6 months in a soap opera.

    Though being a romance writer I always lean toward my characters having their Happily Ever After and their moments of light throughout their journey, but I have to keep throwing up the obstacles to make it interesting.


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