Breaking the mold

Helga’s Post # 93 — We writers all have days when the creative wheels stop spinning and eventually come to a grinding halt. If we are lucky, this could last a day or two. But it could stretch to weeks, months, and beyond. Such is the writer’s bane. We deal with these annoying phenomena in different, and yes, creative ways. Most writers are quite adept in their quest to defeat the insufferable phase. Some of us start working out, or taking up running – age permitting – gardening or some such, and a few of us believe that inspiration lurks inside the fridge or cookie jar.

Speaking for myself, when I am stuck writing my next scene or chapter, or when my own words start to bore me, I close my computer and go in search for a cure. That could be the library, a coffee shop, or my favorite, the local dog park at the beach. Watching people who are owned by their dogs ranks high for rekindling my writer’s inspiration.

Coffee-Art-01A few days ago after my walk at the dog park, I was sitting outside Caffe Artigiano, a venue known by connoisseurs for serving the best coffee on the planet. I was sipping my artfully prepared latte on this glorious late summer morning, the air crisp, leafs turning from green to vibrant yellow and orange. I was thinking about my writing, watching people pass by, searching for a memorable face or figure.

It struck me that most people look rather uneventful. So very different from what TV makes us believe Mr. and Mrs. Average look like. Unlike their young, slim and handsome TV versions, most passers-by are over fifty, sixty, and many much older. Some walk with a slouch, almost all wear ‘comfortable’ shoes and have bad hair-days. With a few exceptions, they are generally not very ‘attractive’ in the traditional sense, or at least what we are made to think is the norm. The fact that I noticed people’s ‘uneventful’ appearance showed me how brainwashed we are to adopt a certain image of how people should look and what makes them attractive.

TV is not the only culprit, though. Think of the last two or three novels you’ve read. What image do you have of the hero or heroine? She might be in her mid-thirties, tall, beautiful hair, and she is a skilled communicator. Perhaps our hero is toned because he works out a lot, women are drawn to him, and of course he is expert in using his fists and a gun. They are also strong of character or become so as the story progresses.

I think of the characters in my own writing and admit that I too have fallen into the trap. Not with all mind you, but I endowed quite a few with these attributes. Boring! But isn’t that what readers expect and want?

I believe a lot of writers face this conundrum. It takes a lot of courage to create a hero or heroine in her fifties or sixties (or God forbid, seventies), of uneventful looks, short of height, in fact, an average person like your neighbor, a relative, or your best friend. Because we fear that’s not what readers want and they won’t buy the book. Is it worth a try to break out of the mold? For sure it will take more skill. It’s not lazy writing. Endowing characters with humor can go a long way, as can a great plot and really good prose.

I am intrigued and may take on the challenge. Just to be different. Because, ironically, creating characters that don’t fit the commercial mold are anything but average. In the end, everyone is unique and important.

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5 thoughts on “Breaking the mold

  1. So true Helga, that ‘ordinary’ people sometimes seem uneventful because of the way we’ve been conditioned to think. I’m in my early forties and I do sometimes catch myself writing about a main character who is younger than me – probably because I still feel as though I’m younger than I am 🙂 – but I do also like writing about older women – I’ve written three stories this year in which the main characters would be considered as ‘elderly’.

  2. Good for you – and your readers – Andrea, for taking the courage to write about older women. I would love to read your stories sometime. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Some of my favourite literary characters have been “ordinary” looking, at least as I picture them — starting with one of your faves too, George Smiley. Even some of my favourite crime-fighters are unlikely hero types — Harry Bosch, Dave Robicheaux, Hercule Poirot, Precious Ramotswe. I think readers warm to a “human” protagonist … but moviegoers? Maybe not so much. How else could you explain the inexplicable mis-casting of Tom Cruise in the role of Jack Reacher?

    • Right on, Silk. Those names are amongst my faves as well. I would like to see some more women among them though. I love Precious, she is a great character who fits the breaking the mold theme very well. We need more of her type. Thanks for commenting.

  4. Pingback: Is ‘not knowing’ holding you back? | 5 Writers 5 Novels 5 Months

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