I met a lobbyist last week at a SF con, of all places. We had a long conversation about many things but one in particular sticks out at me as a writer. She said something about a certain Colorado Senator being a really nice guy and a good person (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which… oh what the hell, Cory Gardner).
I said he wasn’t.
"You don’t even know him. He’s very kind. He has a great family. He’s one of the nicest people you’d ever meet."
I’m sure he is nice. Lots of people are nice. Nice is easy. Nice equals polite and friendly. Nice also has very little to do with who you are as a person.
My response to her: "He doesn’t get to have his voting record, be as big a pussy in his job as he is, and be a Republican* in today’s political climate, and also get to be an actual good person. He doesn’t get to be both."
I don’t think she’d ever had anyone argue that point with her before. But it’s an important argument when we’re talking about people in power, or characters, who wield power over our stories. because niceness doesn’t equal goodness from any angle.
I spent ten years writing a character who can be nice. He knows how to be polite. He loves his family and would do anything for them. He is loyal to his friends. He also can be a rude sonofabitch, but there you are. Multifaceted to the end.
His "niceness" ends there, though, which is good because
1. Nice is boring in literature
2. Nice is as shallow as cheap paint
3. He’s got shit to do where niceness has no place
So, Draken can be nice, but is he good? Well, yes and no. It depends on who you are and which way you’re looking at it. It could be argued he’s a good person because he is willing to sacrifice himself and really everything that means anything to him for the sake of the people he was born to lead and protect. He’s also not good because he doesn’t hesitate to cut down anything in his way without stopping to judge whether he should or not. He does feel guilty for the bloodshed though. And yet, he is the least gracious of princes. He hates his job, he resents the gods for manipulating him into it, and he never pretends differently. I might argue that has something to do with his ultimate goodness as well, but graciousness, while kin to nice, is deeper. He does do the job. Not always well, though.
And so it goes. **
I had two takeaways from this:
Nice is a worthless trait for characters. It’s trite, boring, and shallow.Nice is also a worthless trait for our politicians for the same reasons: trite, boring, shallow. Which helps me understand some politicians better.
*I’d probably argue the same about Democrats before anyone gets their panties in a bunch. A fan of politicians, I’m not.
**In the end it’s not really up to me to decide.