I’m not sure how common this type of hero is outside of anime and manga. Not these days anyway since I think Inspector Clouseau may fall into this category. Still, I tend to see friendly, foolish characters leading anime/manga. You have Monkey D. Luffy, Goku, Naruto, and many others. So, what is this type?
The ‘Friendly Fool’ is exactly what it sounds. A hero who is friendly and not the sharpest knife in the spoon drawer. They don’t always understand what is being explained and tend to make a mess out of plans. Instinct drives them more than intelligence. Even with their penchant for obliviousness and ignorance, they have a presence that attracts others to their side. They’re too friendly and helpful to really hate, especially since they tend to be true friends. Since these characters aren’t bogged down by details, they can be fairly simple and that can mean a solid partnership.
On the surface, you would think these are easy characters to write. Yet, there are a few pitfalls:
- Make them too foolish and the audience stops taking them seriously entirely. Luffy and Goku are foolish, but they can come up with insights at times. Both characters can figure things out in their own way. They’re still fools, but they have moments to show that they’re not idiots.
- Make them too friendly and you have the same problem. These characters can still feel betrayal and recognize bad guys. They aren’t wandering puppies that will latch onto anyone without a second thought. Friendly fools still have a moral code and understand right and wrong.
- Other characters need to react accordingly. Just because you want the audience to love the fool it doesn’t mean all of the other characters will tolerate them. Even allies may show frustration at their antics or act in ways to counter the foolishness. It depends on their own personalities. Don’t sacrifice what they are in order to get this one character to work.
This character isn’t for everyone though. You can clearly see how anyone who wants serious fiction will hate a friendly fool. They can be perceived as idiotic, immature, useless, and destructive. So, you need to think of ways to have them be balanced or maybe grow. I don’t mean evolve entirely out of the friendly fool status, but enough that readers can feel that they are changing. Otherwise, this hero can be seen as stale and held back solely for comedic purposes. This evolution can help keep readers who are more likely to turn on such characters because they’ll see that this is a story about growth. Many can handle an ‘immature’ character if that is a temporary state.
Another option is to give the character an understandable reason for being this way. It can be how they were raised or the way their minds work. These explanations can be enough for readers to accept the friendly fool. For example, I do see Darwin Slepsnor as this type of character, which does border on insulting. The reason I say it is because he is very friendly, but is rather naïve and has a different way of seeing the world. It’s a way that makes him come off as foolish and lacking common sense or logic. It is established at the start that Darwin was born this way and it’s how he’s always been. Will he grow? Yes, but it will take time and never be an evolution that takes him entirely away from the friendly fool role.
So, what do you think of the friendly fool?