Giving Characters Their Moments

I came down with some kind of flu today, so I’ve spent the day drinking tea, sleeping, and watching movies. Tonight the Western Channel was showing all the various Magnificent Seven movies in order. The original is one of my favorite westerns, but I had never seen any of the sequels. Each one follows the same basic framework. Downtrodden Mexicans need help, a gunslinger named Chris recruits a team of badass specialists, complications arise, and then there’s a big shootout in which some of the seven die.

The third one, Guns of the Magnificent Seven, was better than I expected, even with George Kennedy replacing Yul Brenner. You can definitely see the influence of 60s politics in the script (the likable kid who endears himself to the gunslingers, for example, is supposed to a young Zapata). This time there are some interesting new characters, like the mighty John Henry-like heavy and the one armed ex-Confederate trick shooter (played by Joe Don “Mitchell” Baker no less). Here’s the problem. In the final confrontation, none of these characters get their cool moments to show off their shticks. The really strong guy does not perform some heroic feat of strength before getting gunned down. The trick shooter does not make the improbable shot that saves the day. The guy who is supposed to be best knifeman in the west doesn’t even use a knife in the fight!

The whole climax was pretty disappointing because the writer didn’t follow through on the promise of the characters. Each one of these guys should have had his moment as the overall plot moved towards its conclusion. It’s a good thing to remember when writing fiction or when running roleplaying games.

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