Admiration & those who try

January 27, 2014

“#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.” –Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling

As I was catching up on Nagi no Asukara earlier today, I found myself reflecting on how much more I like the character of Hikari since his introduction. At first he was a bratty little kid, all angry and confused and brooding about situations that aren’t going his way, and honestly, that’s fine – he’s a middle school boy, and they’re not exactly paragons of patience or clarity. That didn’t always make him a treat to watch, though.

Now is another matter entirely. Watching Episode 15 really brought it home for me, but honestly it’s been there for a while. And here’s the crucial element – he tries. He makes an effort. He’s doing something, not just sitting around whining about it. He doesn’t always succeed – he didn’t save Manaka, his feelings weren’t returned (yet? maybe?), everyone still went to sleep – but he keeps trying anyway. Even when he was in pain during Episode 15, when he was confused and overwhelmed and slowly folding from all the pressure, he still tried to do his best.

To use an older example, compare Evangelion’s Asuka and Shinji. It’s no wonder many people like Asuka more, despite the fact that Shinji was the one who actually took out most of the angels – where Shinji was passive, whining, and had to be forced into trying, Asuka stood up and tried her absolute hardest until she shattered–and then came back from the brink to fight again, even if it ended badly. Yes, she was flawed in many, many ways, but at least she tried.

Success is overrated. Our heroes can lose. What matters is that they keep trying, because that’s the kind of person we want to root for.

Look forward to more posts on Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling whenever I have an excuse. They’re kind of amazing.

My combo counter: Editing chain, 16 days. Writing chain, 3 day.

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By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.


  1. Reply


    I completely agree. I have a harder time writing happy endings, so I’m pretty familiar with ending stories in a way that doesn’t always leave the protagonist on the winning side. I had never heard of Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling before today, it’s really helpful, I’ve already started using number nine on a part of my story that I’m particularly stuck on. “9: When you’re stuck, make a list of what wouldn’t happen next…” -Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling. I did this for about an hour and finaly thought of a good idea to bride two scenes. Thanks for the valuable resource.

    -a young writer

    1. Reply


      No problem. Glad to have helped : )

  2. Reply


    >Success is overrated.
    Yep. There is a reason “rooting for the underdog” thing exists.

    Still, plenty of people prefer flawless winning characters (*cough* Kirito *cough*) though it may have something to do with self-inserting and wish-fulfillment.

    1. Reply


      Ahhh, but the underdogs usually win even though the odds are stacked against them. That is a great thing too, but this is about those who we admire even when they fail. Take Mushishi, which I’ve been watching lately: even in the few episodes I’ve seen, Ginko has already failed to save people. That doesn’t stop me from admiring him though. Not at all.

  3. Reply


    However, the only thing that is respected is *consistent* success. How to do it consistently is another matter, but those that give up generally don’t succeed very long.

    Not everyone likes an underdog. It can be great for fiction and drama, but Art of War correctly points out victory, overwhelming victory so great, won before battle, the enemy does not even fight overrides all other flaws.

    Shinji’s the whiny hero, and honestly I hate him as a character, and Evangelion as a whole, but he’s redeemed because of his success. Otherwise he’d just be another whiny loser, which anime tends to prop up as protagonists a lot.

    But the problem with victory means there’s less story, unless as a ‘aha moment’ reveal a la Code Geass or Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere– which is awesome in itself, explaining winning strategy as if unwrapping a mystery while we’re led left and right in misdirection.

    There’s story in the conflict of a character who tries, and who may genuinely fail. Death scenes of characters built up, and had good plans, but ultimately did not succeed in their goals make for great drama. Some authors (cough grrm cough) make a career out of killing their characters, with their hopes aspirations and struggles gone awry.

    I don’t think success is overrated. You’d only have tragedy without success (and even then if only bad things occurred, it is overly predictable), but the road to success is indeed the whole story, rather than the destination.

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