Cool Like What?

See this guy?


Mako (voiced by David Faustino)

If you’ve watched the Nickelodeon animated series, The Legend of Korra (created by Bryan Konietzko and Michael Dante DiMartino), as I have, you might have a definite opinion about Mako. I’m betting it’s negative. And it might be due to his dealings with

   korra-avatar-the-legend-of-korra-13641-1920x1080 Korra (the Avatar, voiced by Janet Varney)


and Asami (voiced by Seychelle Gabriel)

(Click on the series name above or here if you want more information about it.) If you fall on the anti-Mako side, you wouldn’t be alone. Google hate mako legend of korra and you’ll discover posts written by ranting fans with strong opinions about Mako’s ethics (or lack thereof in their opinion).

If you hate spoilers, better run right now. While I refuse to spoil the current season, I can’t avoid at least some spoilers for last season (Book One: Air). You see, Mako dated Asami, though aware that Korra had feelings for him. But dating Asami didn’t stop him from kissing Korra, obsessing over her, and later breaking up with Asami. Sound like a soap opera? That’s the kind of love triangle you see in many young adult books and TV series.

But I didn’t write this post to dwell on Mako’s love life as intriguing as it may be (or not, depending on your opinion of the dude). No, what struck me about some of the diatribes about him was the fact that his character was judged as “boring” and his firebending ability (his ability to wield fire, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the world of Avatar) labeled as not “cool” enough.

The word cool is very hard to pin down, because it is so subjective. What’s cool to me might be lame to you and vice versa. (And also to the Doctor of Doctor Who, who believes that fezzes are cool.)


Now, I never considered Mako uncool. Look at him. He’s got that scarf and those fingerless gloves. And he can shoot fire and lightning out of his hands. But for many fans, that’s not cool enough.


The other day I sat at my computer, pondering how to make a character “cool.” Actually, I sat at my computer playing Spider Solitaire. But I gave a little thought to the topic, because of my warrior character. I worry that readers might put the “uncool” card on him because honestly, I have no idea how to reach for that star. Cool? How do you even start? Does he have to have that unshaven look, a conspicuous tattoo, killer grin, washboard abs, great hair, and a name like Logan or Declan? Judging by some of the covers of young adult and new adult books, that look is considered “cool.” (Which means my character will get sent to remedial cool school.) But coolness is a slippery slope, an ever-shifting designation that only those in the know seem to have a handle on. And even that population shifts.

Is coolness something you’re shooting for in a character? What makes a character “cool” to you?

Mako images from and Korra from Asami from Matt Smith as the Doctor from


35 thoughts on “Cool Like What?

  1. I’m not sure you can make a character cool. I think, like people, the harder they try, the harder they fail. Cool is one of those traits you either have or not. It’s also hard to define. Self-possession in the face of diversity is, for me, pretty much the hallmark of cool. Even when someone is confident how things are going to work out and then it all goes to shite around them and they come out of it still maintaining that aura . . . that’s cool.

    • Your characters are cool, Kathi. I’m thinking especially of Driev. That’s what I think of when I think of “cool.” But good advice. Aiming for this result is akin to having the goal of writing a bestseller. Either it happens or it doesn’t.

  2. This makes me think of an argument I had years back with someone over the Final Fantasy 7 villain, Sephiroth. He’s one of the most popular characters from the franchise and is seem as an awesome badass. My friend hates him because he feels Sephiroth was designed specifically to be cool. I argued that all the characters he is compared to came after him, but my friend went on a rant about how characters shouldn’t be created simply to be seen as ‘cool’. So it is a person’s opinion, but if a writer tries too hard it can backfire.

    • You know, that’s a really good point. I wonder if Mako was designed with that in mind and fans are reacting to that under the belief that they’re being manipulated. Granted, there’s no pleasing everyone. Does anyone watch the Fast and Furious movies because they hope to see uncool people?

      I agree that a writer shouldn’t try too hard, like trying too hard with humor. I guess it’s hard when you strive after something so subjective.

      • Is it wrong that next to Vin Diesel, Ludacris is my favorite character from that series?

        I say it a lot, but it’s really true that readers easily figure out when something is being forced.

    • Yeah, I thought about the Fonz. And you’re right, Jill. Times have changed. I don’t think I could watch an episode of Happy Days now.
      Thanks! Happy Thanksgiving to you too!

  3. Maybe it’s my age, but I honestly never worry about that. Most of characters are socially awkward in some way or another. I like to think that makes them more sympathetic to readers. James is, I suppose “cool” in the sense of being unflappable, but that’s because he has Catskinner to bail him out of dangerous situations.

    • And that’s what I also like, Misha–characters who are socially awkward and flawed in other ways too. I’m trying to resist giving this character all of the “cool” weapons under the mistaken notion that such accoutrements somehow make him cool. (And cool catchphrases are out too. :-D)

  4. I’ve never considered making a character “cool” before so that’s a good food for thought. I also agree with Christi above that “cool” is hard to define.
    PS: I’ve been avoiding The Legend Of Korra because of the wait between seasons. I remember how hard it was to wait for The Last Air Bender new seasons. lol

  5. Good, thought provoking post Linda. I can’t say I’ve ever tried to make a character cool and it’s a trait that has never hit my conscious mind while writing. I think, as you mention, cool is in the eye of the beholder and it’s probably something best left unmanipulated by the author. Let the audience decide!

  6. I guess it depends on the age of the reader. I couldn’t tell you what teens think is “cool” because obviously, I am doing something wrong and am NOT cool. hee,hee Cool to me is suave, calm, confident, in control and with a “presence” about him/her. Good luck with your cool character!

  7. I think we all, at some point in our lives, have wanted to be cool or at least have tried to be cool and have been excruciatingly aware that we fell pretty short of the mark – especially during those angsty teenage years (or was that just me?).

    I often find that those characters that stay with me, the ones I really root for, really care for, really get heartbroken over, are those who are uncool. That feeling of being a fraud, of trying to fit in but never quite managing is a very powerful one, and something that I think most people would identify with.

    Maybe rather than just making your character cool, give him the outward appearance of cool whilst deep down have him worry that he isn’t quite cool enough for whatever it is he is reaching/aiming for, that he doesn’t quite measure up. I don’t know your character obviously, so that might be completely wrong for him. But personally, that’s the kind of character that I’d find really interesting, and although they might not rant and rave about how cool he is, I reckon people would root for him because they can identify with that struggle.

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