Today I was thinking. Yes, that happens occasionally. I was thinking about fairy tales and what we learn from them. Some have great lessons, such as “listen to your parents”. Some have less than stellar lessons like, “stepmoms are evil”. Even better is the “perfect girl” stereotype. I do have to hand it to Disney, they at least attempted to make their princess headstrong and independent. The actual fairy tales though, have the princesses as typically helpless and in need of rescuing. A fairy tale princess rarely exhibits keen intelligence or even wit.
If you thought that the portrayal of princesses was abysmal, then the princes undoubtedly have things far worse. The proverbial “Prince Charming” is 1) a prince and 2) capable of rescuing the princess. While his endeavor to rescue the princess is most laudable, there is a huge component missing. Character. What is Prince Charming really like? Is he honest, hard-working, fair, intelligent? Where is the role model for young readers? Perhaps this is the subconscious message: boys just need to fight off the dragon and the princess will swoon into his waiting arms and be forever his. It is amazing to me that fairy tales have been passed down through generations when so many characters except the villains fall flat. We should not merely be trying to craft memorable stories, but also memorable characters.
I have to say that truly crafting a character is a difficult thing to do. It is said “you should write what you know”, but I doubt all of us writers know what it’s like to be schizophrenic, criminal or psychotic. This is difficult because it technically would mean that we should never write any of those characters. That could make for very boring literature over the years. Enter the internet. We can now research anything we want with the push of a few buttons. I don’t think anything beats getting closer to the source though, interviews (either ones you conduct or pre-recorded ones, say on 20/20 or 60 minutes, etc.) can be a great way to get into the mind of your characters. Once you’ve got a little bit of their mindset, take a walk in their shoes. Try to see things their way and chances are you’ll have very “real” interactions in your piece. You characters will be memorable because they will seem to jump off the page and come to life before the readers’ eyes. They won’t be shaking their heads saying, “Yeah, right. Like THAT would happen”. I have read books with characters like that and it is extremely distracting. So no matter how crazy your character is, get in their shoes and take a nice long walk. Just make sure you don’t walk for so long that you become the character. That would be scary and a little bit creepy.
And remember…give your characters, some character! But, you already know that anyway! 🙂