I have a confession. One of my favourite programmes during my teenage years is Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I was glued to it almost from the first day it aired in the U.K. When I saw that it was being repeated from the beginning on TV a couple of months ago I was thrilled. Sure it had some ropey moments but watching it again I still love it.
But you know what? It’s not the butt-kicking action with the superpowers that I like the most. Buffy is a great character and I seriously related to Willow when I was at school (never did get those awesome powers though) but the character I really liked was Xander. Not in ‘Oh my god, he’s a BOY!’ kind of like but as a person dealing with all this stuff and staying grounded.
Xander is the normal guy. He’s the one that everyone kind of pities because he is normal. In later series, he’s the one with the normal life. He goes to work after spending time figuring out what he’s good at and what he enjoys and sticks at it. He progresses normally without any powers or anything to give him an edge.
The other really interesting thing is that they all turn to him. He acts as a glue that they don’t even see. He really is the heart of the group. When they are about to embark on something vaguely insane, he calls them back and gets them to look at what they are doing. Heck, he even saves the world a couple of times by being normal!
He is completely normal. And in a way that is his power. He becomes the grounding point. When he loses the plot, the rest can’t cope. He shows the other characters and the audience what a normal person’s reaction would be. That is seen as a weakness a lot of the time but just occasionally they all realise that it’s his strength as well. He questions when the others blindly accept that this is just one more weird and wonderful thing to do.
So, I reckon about now you are wondering why I am waxing lyrical about a character from a teen show. I think that stories work because no matter how fantastical they might be they are still somehow rooted in what’s normal. Sure, your character might have three heads and a tentacle coming out of his belly but he still eats breakfast. He still has to work out where his socks go to. We all need a bit of Xander Harris in our stories or else we risk getting lost in the fantastical and forget to question just what are we doing and why. And when we lose that, we lose our readers.
So, who or what is the Xander Factor in your stories?