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!