Good Guys Wear White Hats

We may not have it all together, but together we have it all.

An email I received this week talked about an auction of paraphernalia having to do with Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Reading through it took my mind back to the days of my childhood when these two were major heroes to all us kids.

One of the things I’ve had the hardest time with in writing fiction is the concept of having flawed characters. This is not how it was in my youth. Here are some of the heroes of television and movies from those days:

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Roy Rogers                                Gene Autry

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The Lone Ranger                         John Wayne

The good guys (almost) always wore white hats, and the bad guys usually wore black hats. This was far more than just a way of telling one character from another.

The heroes (protagonists) were GOOD guys, and the villains (antagonists) were BAD guys. The good guys weren’t Jesus, of course. They weren’t perfect, but they were good guys. Writers and directors didn’t try to show faults and frailties in the heroes of the books and movies and television shows of the fifties and earlier. They just showed what made them heroes.

By the same token, they didn’t spend their time and energy trying to show us how much good there was in the bad guys. They just let them be bad.

I know. That’s unrealistic. Every writing group or conference or lecture I’ve ever attended has stressed that making characters black or white oversimplifies them and makes them boring. In the real world, good guys have flaws, and bad guys have some good traits, and that’s what the industry demands of writers.

Okay, I understand that. As difficult as it’s been for me to make that transition in thought, I realize that’s what sells books and movies. But do I have to like it?

The kids of my generation were exhorted to goodness by our heroes. We weren’t confused by flaws in the characters we adored. And this sent us a powerful message. The movies we saw and books we read held out goodness as a desirable quality for us to strive for. We believed there was such a quality as good in the world, and it was presented to us in such a way as to cause us to want it for ourselves.

At the same time, we were turned off by bad guys. Nobody wanted to be a pure, black-hearted villain. We weren’t in confusion about that.

If this all seems silly and pointless to you, let me point out that back then we weren’t constantly straining taxpayers in order to build new prisons. Nobody in my high school even knew anyone who smoked marijuana, much less harder drugs. We knew the difference between good and evil. Were we perfect? No. But we all wanted to be found on the side of good rather evil.

Alas, that’s a bygone world. We won’t see it again, either in literature or in real life. I’ll continue building flaws into my characters—but I don’t have to like it. I can yearn for days gone by.

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Every Wednesday and Friday one of our Life List Club members posts a blog on the LLC Website. Today, LLC co-founder Marcia Richards will post on that site.

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Marcia

After you comment on my post, be sure to come back here and click on the LLC Website so you can read hers also.

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clip_image008David N. Walker is a Christian father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years as a health insurance agent. Most of that career was spent in Texas, but for a few years he traveled many other states. He started writing about 20 years ago, and has six unpublished novels to use as primers on how NOT to write fiction. He is currently putting the finishing touches on his non-fiction Web Wisdom: Godly Thoughts and Inspiration from the Inbox and starting his new fiction work—a series of novellas set during the period from 1860 to 1880.

Contact me at davwalktx@yahoo.com or tweet me at @davidnwalkertx

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About David N. Walker

David N. Walker is a Christian husband, father and grandfather, a grounded pilot and a near-scratch golfer who had to give up the game because of shoulder problems. A graduate of Duke University, he spent 42 years in the health insurance industry, during which time he traveled much of the United States. He started writing about 20 years ago and has been a member and leader in several writers' groups. Christianity 101: The Simplified Christian Life, the devotional Heaven Sent and the novella series, Fancy, are now available in paperback and in Kindle and Nook formats, as well as through Smashwords and Kobo. See information about both of these by clicking "Books" above.
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14 Responses to Good Guys Wear White Hats

  1. Pingback: Tall Tale Tuesday: Plant Some Ideas « Ellie Ann

  2. Nah, just keep plugging, Amberr.

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  3. Dawn says:

    As i read your post I thought back to my Nancy Drew days. Even though she was always sticking her nose where she shouldn’t (which is probably why I loved her so much), she always ended up being right. She was pretty, kind, and well-loved (except by the bad guys of course). Who wouldn’t want to be like her? But, sometimes I would get so distressed with myself because I didn’t have the right color hair or wear the proper clothing or have enough friends. So, I think the point is that while having protagonists that strive to do good is important, showing that they are not perfect is also important. It keeps us all from wanting to jump off a cliff because we forgot to use the salad fork instead of the dinner fork….

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  4. hawleywood40 says:

    I do understand what you mean about wishing for simpler times, David. I always loved a true “good guy/girl.” Then again, I’m really enjoying the challenge of writing from the point of view of ghost who is trying to put things right after he spent all his “living years” being a complete jerk : ).

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    • I think I yearning for a time which never did exist in reality and which will never be revisited in fiction, Pam. Realistically, I see that – but I still yearn.

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  5. Marcia says:

    I guess that’s why we, who grew up during the 50s look back on it as an idyllic time. It’s hard not to bore my children with stories of ‘how much simpler’ life was back then and how we wish today could be just a little more like that. I write about those days, but don’t make them idyllic. My characters are seriously flawed, but they do manage to find their way to happiness in the end.
    Those cowboys you have pictured were some of my favorites growing up. I loved Roy Roger and Dale Evans–they were so in love. My parents nearly named me Dale after her–thank goodness they reconsidered. 🙂

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  6. I think all my characters are flawed … but not in a good way.

    Cheers!

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  7. Barbara Estinson says:

    I feel very much like Gloria does. The good guys-bad guys of our childhood may have been easy to understand and showed us ideals (in both directions), but I also spent more than a little time scared that I was headed to hell because of some slip in my behavior. (A kind babysitter once found me behind the couch, crying, and comforted me when I told her that I was going to hell.) And you know, David, that I wasn’t a bad kid. But any little thing I did which wasn’t “perfect” left me in fear. I don’t want that for anyone’s kids. I don’t know what the answer is … I do think that there is too much focus on violence in video games, movies, t.v., etc … and that kids may have a pretty hard job growing up and not buying into negative images. But I also find it very refreshing when a well known person acknowledges his or her flaws or difficulties, takes responsibility for them, and works to correct them.

    Barb

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  8. Hey, David! Great stroll down memory lane. I, too, suffered from Flawed Protagonist Aversion Syndrome early in my writing career. Since I live vicariously through the character when she/he is in my head, I struggled with pulling out the flaws and plopping them on the page.

    With my strict Protestant upbringing–one so close to Mennonite, we were kissing cousins–I have a clear childhood memory of crying myself to sleep one night because I had, once again, answered an altar call and backslid. I was certain I was headed to Hell. What does this have to do with the topic?

    It’s a stretch, but, I do have a point here. Everyone has flaws. Everyone has redeeming value. No, I don’t like the fact that kids are exposed to so much so early. I don’t like the fact that video games focus on war and blood and guts. I don’t like that Prime Time television exposes kids to in-your-face promiscuity and alcohol abuse.

    That said, I do believe it’s healthy for kids to see flaws in the heroes, so long as those White Hats recognize those flaws and make an effort to correct them. A perfect hero figure–both television and sports–sets impossibly high standards. I’ll point to Josh Hamilton’s recent relapse. He has a disease. He relapsed. He openly acknowledged his weakness and picked himself up to bat another home run. I like the take-away message that delivers to his fans, young and old.

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