Thursday, June 13, 2013

Jim Butcher's STORM FRONT, Part 5


One of the most important things an author who writes action scenes must do is make sure each action scene comes alive, and every scene where the hero faces the bad guys must have the hero stretched to his limit just to hold his own.

The fights must become more difficult to win, and the final battle must be the most intense one of all.  The risk of losing for the hero is greater than his own death, and to win, he must lose something of inestimable value to himself.  This can include his life.

(To learn more about writing fight and action scenes, read my article on the subject.

In STORM FRONT, Butcher not only follows this method, he ups the ante to the point of the ridiculous.  Everything that Harry faces up to that point in the novel-- the toad demon, the black wizard, the giant scorpion, and guns-- are part of the final attack, and he faces it totally exhausted and injured.

Sure, it's fun, but it's so over the top I had difficulty taking it seriously, and it belied the tone of the rest of the novel.

Harry does, however, choose death to save others from the black wizard, and he only survives because Morgan rescues him from the burning house.

Butcher's can-you-top-this point of the ridiculous hits its peak in SMALL FAVOR when Harry faces the three Billy Goats Gruff with the final one so massive he might as well be facing Godzilla.  

In recent novels, fortunately, he's backed away from this by giving Harry better back up against the various monsters and demons facing him.



Harry Dresden is the voice of the series, and he is also the heart of the series.  Without such a successfully written character, there would be no "Dresden Files."

What is it about Harry that draws the reader?  

His good points:

A sense of humor about the world and himself.  Darkness and disaster surround him, and he's becoming the most powerful wizard as well as the go-to guy to stop the supernatural and real world from going to hell, but he doesn't take himself too seriously, and he can see the ridiculous in all this.  

Bravery.  Even when afraid, like in the scene where he finally faces the black wizard in STORM FRONT, he still goes forward to face his enemy.  

Kindness and an inability to turn away someone in need.  That includes a stray cat and even his nemesis, Morgan.

Chivalry toward the weak and a willingness to fight for what is right.  

A good leader who inspires loyalty.  In STORM FRONT, he starts out by himself except for a little help from Murphy and Mac the bar owner, but by CHANGES, he has an army of friends, frenemies, and powerful beings who owe him debts.  Even his enemies no longer treat him with contempt.


For every good point, Harry has a bad point that makes us crazy:  

Bravado.  He will start a fight that he probably won't win because of sheer cussedness. 

A big mouth.  He makes enemies because he can't shut up, can't give up a chance for cleverness, and can't admit to himself that he is out of his depths and should shut up.

Secrecy/trust issues.  Not until later in the series does Harry finally come clean about the wizarding world and its secrets to his closest allies like Karrin Murphy.  In STORM FRONT, even a little bit of information about why he couldn't duplicate the heart-exploding black magic or tell her about some of the things happening would have kept her on his side, but he won't even do that. 

An unwilling to ask for help.  Morgan isn't the only person he knows in the wizarding world.  Couldn't he contact Ebenezar McCoy when he found out about Three Eye?  

A problem with authority figures.  He treats Morgan, various nonhumans, and those above Murphy in rank with disrespect.  When he needs help, he can't get it from them.


All of Harry's bad personality traits are good plot providers.  They keep him constantly at a disadvantage in individual scenes as well as through the novel plots.

However, a writer of Butcher's calibre could have made Harry far less self-destructive and had stronger novels.


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