Friday, August 20, 2010

Breaking the Rules - Memorable Characters

Photograph by tibchris.
We are taught that the elderly are wise and frail, princesses are beautiful and helpless, and monsters are evil and should be slain. We grow up with these archetypes in our fairytales, our movies, and in witness to real life.  Its an unspoken rule that a babe is innocent and should be protected, a gangster is ruthless, and heroes win because they do what's right...right?

Sometimes great stories break the rules and the character is better for it.  Think of your favorite type of character and give them an unexpected twist in the opposite direction.  You may end up with a beautiful milkmaid that is cruel or an assassin that risks his life for a child. Sound familiar? These are famous takes on heroes and villains that made us remember, root for, and talk about.

What about changing an expected outcome on its ear like a monster attack making someone stronger, or a hospital that is intentionally killing people? These types of changes give you as the author a whole new set of conflicts to throw at your characters. If your thug is afraid of guns or your village elder is an idiot then that makes for a great set of circumstances that can be delightfully unexpected.

Characters like this allow for story threads not available to their traditional counterparts. They give your novel originality and with a market saturated with similar themes, memorable takes on the tried and true set your story apart.

Think about what you could do with a cowardly knight, a dare-devil granny, or a wicked angel. Your character twist doesn't necessarily have to be opposite either, just unexpected. A favorite blogger of mine uses well known literary and historical figures in his supernatural thrillers with rivetting results.

So give it a try. Defy convention - break the rules. You may be pleasantly surprised. How do you keep things fresh in your writing? What tricks to you use to avoid stereotypical characters?  I'd love to hear your secrets.

Until next time...Go Write!


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I have an older main character who is wise but still active and able. He's also very tough, but with enough compassion to see past a younger character's attitude and behavior issues.

stu said...

The problem comes when you no longer have any ruthless assassins or nice milkmaids.

Laura Marcella said...

Great post, Raquel. I love breaking the rules! I have a middle-grade character who wears glasses and is smart, but he's a starter on the basketball team. Stereotypically nerds aren't athletic, but it does happen.

Lovy Boheme said...

I'm giving zombies feelings in my WiP and I think it works. Others might think it blasphemous. Either way...rules are meant to be broken. :)

Roland D. Yeomans said...

Thanks, Raquel, for the link to my blog on yours.

Your post reflects my thinking in creating Sam McCord, an eternal older man, looking in his early fifties.

I got tired of all those eternally young pretty boy vampires. What would it feel like to be continually called "Old Man" by enemies who dismissed you as unworthy?

And I have enjoyed using historical figures in the adventures of my avatar in the Shadowlands. Thanks, Raquel.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Thanks for the reminder!