This post is volume 1 of my Characters Series where I will attempt to discuss and explore a few of the various archetypes popular in genre fiction today.
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The Knight in Shining Armor/White Knight/Ideal Hero…You get the idea.
We know this character: Steve Rogers, Chaol Westfall, Prince Charming, Harry Potter
There are a lot of benefits to the white knight. We always know where he stands on moral issues. We know he’s going to sacrifice himself for others, but he never really dies, it just seems like the odds are against him. The Knight often has few or no flaws, content with doing the right thing all the time. He is usually attractive, playing the part of the sexy male love interest.
Recent characterizations of the knight character have given him more facets, like a uncut diamond, but at the core, he’s still a polished and practiced hero. He probably saved puppies from the pound or something heroic like that. Then he paid for their shots and donated them to kids’ hospitals with a mountain of food the community donated to him because he’s such a good, decent guy…
Don’t get me wrong, there are always stories for the knight in shining armor. He’s the experienced and rugged cop hunting serial killers. He’s the guy who provides a moral compass for his group, but at the core, he’s still a bland character. His growth is stunted by the fact that he’s already “the best” he can be, morally. There are no shades of grey.
To use pop culture as an example of this: Steve Rogers. He’s not an interesting character on his own. Throughout his first four MCU appearances, it’s the situations he’s in rather than his own arc that provide the story. When we get to Captain America: Civil War, his adherence to being good soldier directly conflicts with his need to protect his best friend. Both are aspects of the knight in shining armor and it is the conflict between the two that propels the movie forward.
When the core beliefs of the knight are challenged, we get internal conflict. In the Throne of Glass series by Sarah J. Maas, we get this with Chaol Westfall in book 2, when he has to decide where his loyalty lies and what he’s willing to sacrifice for that loyalty.
We see these static knight characters a lot in popular books. This is often due to poor character planning. They rarely, if ever, change and that makes them largely uninteresting. When their core compass is challenged, when they are forced to make a hard choice they’re propelled into new territory and that is where their story is.
Character challenge: Examine your current WIP and find a character with a strong moral compass. Create a situation that would force them to question their beliefs. Write the scene.