Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The adventures of the straw man

Every writer has their own set of pet peeves when reading other people’s writing. For me, it’s logic fallacies. You can do a lot of things wrong in a book, but to me, you cannot violate basic laws of logic. I’m sure I will be lambasted for being snotty for this, but it is annoying. And now that I’ve posted this, I’m sure my logic flaws will be pointed out, which I think is a good thing (it will only make me a better writer).

Anyways, I am planning on writing all week on my favorite fallacies this week. Today, I will start with the straw man.

The straw man argument is a subset of the Ignoratio Elenchi fallacies. The whole point of the argument, or character creation in this case, is to create a misrepresentation of an opposing argument as to make it easy to refute and then attribute it to the opposition’s inability to reason, etc.

From Wiki:
“An example of a straw man fallacy:

Person A: I don't think children should run into the busy streets.
Person B: I think that it would be foolish to lock up children all day with no fresh air.

By insinuating that Person A's argument is far more draconian than it is, Person B has side-stepped the issue. Here the "straw man" that person B has set up is the premise that ‘The only way to stop children running into the busy streets is to keep them inside all day’.”

So how does this all apply to writing? I find that authors create characters that are a vast misrepresentation of the opposite side of the argument, and then tear that character apart. Look at any major motion pictures for the portrayal of the “bad” guy. It’s riduculus. The readers or viewer never gets the chance to understand really why there is an opposing side, what might drive someone to acts against society, etc. Most antagonists are portrayed as mindless, uneducated villains. I’m sure you have many characters that jump to mind at this point; I know I do.


Mr. Smoot said...

All that movies require for character development is a catch phrase around which YAS (Yet Another Stereotype) can be created or refined. I believe that Sideshow Bob said it best in a rant that included something like "...and a ending that could have come from any Hollywood hack with a Powerbook." Cut and paste, cut and paste.

I think the best character development ended with the use of "I am the greetest! I am now leaving Earth for no raisin!"

If only Frye could create more in this millennium instead of the next one.....

writtenwyrdd said...

"Most antagonists are portrayed as mindless, uneducated villains." I think this is the trend in a nutshell. Logic holes are bad; but not showing the entire breadth of the supposed villian's point of view skews the argument within the fiction to the point that it's a characature.

Good article!

Bernita said...

Straw Man - otherwise known as missing the bloody point.

Nicole Kelly said...


I totally agree about missing the point, as in, what is the point of a one-dimensional character? I don't care if it is the antagonist or the pretty man/woman that follows the protagonist around. If you can't make them real, leave them out.