In ancient times when warriors wanted to increase their skill in combat, they would spar with other skilled warriors. These duels were intense and pushed both combatants to their limits. Warriors spent hours every day engaged in these duels, and their skill and strength increased because of it.
A warrior who did not spar was a man whose days were numbered. It didn’t matter if he was incredibly skilled, failure to practice regularly with others of skill meant it was only a matter of time before he met his match or superior in a real fight and was killed.
This concept of a good “sparring partner” is hugely important when creating a main character. It can be the difference between a relate-able character that is continually growing, or, a character that is always superior and stagnant because they are never pushed. Lasting characters often last because they never stop getting better.
Wise people in real life know that they need to grow. So, they surround themselves with people who engage their minds, push their limits in knowledge, and test their virtues and social skills. Iron sharpening iron, so to speak.
Characters are based off of real life experiences. I think this is why characters that are sixteen levels above anyone else in the movie feel so boring. They are never stimulated, they are always the smartest person in the room, and they are never thrown off their game or forced to become better.
A great example of this is Aurora Teagarden (Candace Cameron Bure) in the original movie series Aurora Teagarden on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
Aurora is a smart librarian with a knack for solving murders. She is always mentally one step ahead of everyone around her. In her first two movies Aurora may face a bit of resistance in solving the murders, but it’s often due to police red tape or other people’s failures.
Aurora also can’t seem to find a significant other to stick around. Sure, the pastor from the Aurora Teagarden: A Bone to Pick and the author from Real Murders were nice guys. Both men adored her and yet they did nothing to add to her character or grow her. They were “yes” men who told her how smart and gorgeous she was, but they never challenged her.
I love these mystery series, I really do, but I always felt that this particular series was missing something. It didn’t hold water as well and there was clearly a strong flavor that the story lacked.
Lucky for everybody, the writers figured out what flavor they needed to add in, and it came in the form of Martin (Yannick Bisson) in the third installment: Three Bedrooms, One Corpse.
Martin as a character totally threw Aurora for a loop. He could say one thing and catch her off guard. While he deeply admired her brilliance and her beauty, he was not intimidated by her. He remained mysterious and didn’t hand over information to her just because she batted her eyelashes.
Aurora was forced to operate at a whole new level in order to learn about Martin and prove whether or not he was the murder suspect. In the sparring of both wits and words, Martin proved to be her equal and occasionally her better; a fact that only caused her to step up her game.
Providing Aurora with an excellent sparring partner evened her character out, made her more realistic (she’s not a goddess, she’s human), and added great interest to her story. The third installment of the Aurora Teagarden movies was by far the best and moved this series up in my favorites list, previously it had been my least favorite original mystery movie series on Hallmark Movies and Mysteries.
We were even treated to a preview of the next Aurora Teagarden installment, and lo and behold, guess who the writers decided to hang onto? That’s right, Martin.
Finally! Aurora has met her match and everyone knows it. The missing flavor has been added, and our heroine has found a sparring partner.
Sparring partners can come in many different shapes and forms. Sometimes they are allies, and sometimes they are enemies. There are even cases when setting or circumstances can fill provide the role of the sparring partner.
Still, I always enjoy a human touch to the role of a sparring partner. Particularly when it is an ally who challenges the hero to become better.
It is always encouraging to me see examples of two characters pushing each other to greater heights. I love these character pairings because I strive for this kind of great interaction in my own life.
Join me Friday for Part 2, when I will point out and discuss some iconic film/TV pairings that are examples of excellent sparring partners.
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