Friday, February 24

They Are More Than What You See

Last year for NaNoWriMo we were given our choice of motivational stickers. Plenty of us stuck them on our laptops. There's one that says: "Whatever you think you are, you are more than that." It's a great point for everyone to remember in times of doubt - and writers have plenty - but it also makes me think of how we can use such a notion to develop our own creations.

"More than meets the eye" is the well-known phrase. Books may have snazzy covers but their substance is within. Someone may appear to be shy at first but there is a vibrant personality hidden inside them, waiting to burst forth. Fictional characters are much the same. They may not be real people but in every other sense they should be an individual.

I've read too many books where stereotypes have been stuck to. The teen heroine has a snarky arch nemesis whose entire purpose in life seems to be to thwart her. I know that inferiority complexes are very much real and thriving but it seems a bit much. Not every character in a story will be as developed or important but every one needs to have the acknowledgement that one aspect does not define them.

In the play 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' one of the heroines is taller than the other. Their exact heights are unknown but it becomes instilled in the reader's mind that Helena is tall and Hermia is short. This doesn't define either of the two characters but it does make for one point of bickering when their love lives become tangled.

Height is just one of the many ways in which people differ, so naturally it's one of the many things we notice about each other. I'm just over 5 feet 1 inch...I think. Around that, anyway. So, I'm short. People notice, people make jokes, I embrace it and sometimes it irks me. It's part of how people see me.

I love dramatic monologues. I may not be the greatest actor but it never stopped me from adoring acting and theatre. I love characters who express themselves in brilliant ways...and it doesn't take me long when reading a play to suss out which female characters have the best lines or who appeals to me the most.

When I was in primary school, I wanted to audition for the role of Titania. It wasn't 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' but an incorporation of the character into an original production. The teacher refused to let me audition because I was too short. That was over ten years ago. I'm still bitter.

In high school, when we studied Shakespeare's plays, the teacher would have us read character roles. At one of my schools we were reading from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' It was a scene between Helena and Hermia. Eager, I volunteered to read. A guy in my class also volunteered.

I turned to the girl sitting next to me and told her that the teacher was going to ask me to read for Hermia. She did. My friend started laughing. When the teacher inquired as to why, I told her that I knew she was going to ask me to play Hermia because even though the other reader was a dude and we were only reading, I was shorter than him. She was notably embarrassed and to her credit let me read for Helena.

Fiction and writing helps to shape how we see things. Clichés are born from original ideas that are overused and stereotypes stem from a truth and then stick to it until it's stunted. I do not believe that a fictional character who does bad things should be revealed to be the hard exterior for an endangered and fragile species of butterflies nesting inside* but I do think that they need to be more than the cookie-cutter baddie.

You are more than what you think you are and more than how other people see you. Treat your fictional characters the same way. The reader will thank you for it.
*Actually, that would be pretty cool. Save the butterflies by incubating them inside a criminal on Death Row, only to have him escape, become even more deadly...and no one can harm him because he harbours that protected species. Bonus points if the butterflies are an important factor in curing an illness.

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