What authority figure?

by Stella

So Mike's on vacation. Time to throw a wild party!

Or not. Because this is only an online magazine. Also, it would be wrong.

Which reminds me - I was thinking how one of the first things you need to do in a good story is either get rid of the authority figure or to have the conflict be with the authority figure. Why else would so many heroes and heroines be orphans? Although now that I'm typing, I'm also remembering that many good characters have only one functioning parent, or have two parents who are neglectful for some reason, thus leaving the character to have his/her adventures.

Jane Eyre? No parents. Elizabeth Bennet? Bad parents. Scout Finch? One parent (albeit Atticus Finch is practically Father of the Year). Characters in westerns and sci-fi are frequently parentless. Otherwise you wouldn't have lone gunmen, prostitutes with hearts of gold, and Luke Skywalker would still be on Tatooine tending his Uncle's farm.

Not that I'm arguing that we need to get rid of Mike to have fun around here. Without Mike we wouldn't be having fun around here in the first place! Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy was all about destroying "The Authority." So what is it with us humans - possibly us writers in particular? Any thoughts? I've been puzzling over this for a while and there's always some good thinking going on over here. Besides, Mike expects us to be constructive and we shouldn't disappoint him.


dfrucci said...

Nice post, reflecting back to stories I've read this almost always proves true. Even in my own writing!

kathleenmaher said...

Interesting, Stella. Authority figures usually do disappoint those they're leading and/or themselves and/or the world.
Atticus is a brilliant exception but even he, for all his goodness, could only reveal the lie--not win the case.
Every story requires a struggle. Perhaps within all struggle sits some defiance against the powers that be: God, physics, parents, perhaps even the best possible editors.
(What kind of party did you have mind, anyway?)

Stella said...

dfrucci - happy to oblige :)

Kathleen - It's funny seeing "the best possible editors" in a category that includes God and physics. (I don't know! But I thought some kind of disgustingly sugary dessert could be involved.)

kathleenmaher said...

To me, Stella, editors naturally determine immutable, universal laws, and I would never cross them.
But sugary desserts? Oh yeah, I'm ready for seconds.

Stella said...

I'll keep that in mind, Kathleen :)

Ooh! We could have pizza!

Paul Burman said...

How right: if there's no conflict, there's no growth. Conflict can be in response to resisted authority figures or the sense of being adrift in the world (from being parentless and/or homeless), or from a number of other reasons, but certainly these first two seem to feature frequently.

Turn up the music, crack open a bottle or two, it's time to begin that virtual party!

the Amateur Book Blogger said...

I'm sure it's a pretty basic instinct, on which survival is dependent. Don't challenge the top monkey unless you're strong enough and willing to take his place - that sort of thing...

Paul "Turn up the music, crack open a bottle or two, it's time to begin that virtual party!" Isn't your book out soon? Got the bottle on ice yet?

Stella said...

Paul - I accidentally broke the disco ball. Oh well...

Jen - "Don't challenge the top monkey" - nice idea for a t-shirt :)

Paul Burman said...

There's a couple of crates on ice, Jen! I've got a feeling September is going to be a blur.

And, Mike, with regards your request to take the pictures down. Don't worry, we were planning on taking the walls down.

Mary said...

I think authority figures represent the structured, status quo of whatever society a story is set in. The "authority figure" embodies the norm, the all-powerful voice that wants to perpetuate the system. The protagonist, then, struggles against the "powers that be" that kathleenmaher touched upon.

The fact that so much good literature manifests its protagonist into a rebel, radical, or innovative figure because writers push against the norm, and because all audiences want to believe that there is such a thing as success of the individual against all odds - this drive for change is what makes not only a good novel interesting and gripping, but also appealing to that deviant within us suppressed by the staid pressures of daily life.

The authority figure in the movies and books that Stella referred to would have been binding to the growth of the characters, since those figures are examples of the status quo or what is expected.