Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ordinary People in Extraordinary Situations

So, recently, one of the agents I follow on Twitter tweeted something interesting. It’s been roaming around in my head and making me think, and thus I am regurgitating my thoughts on this subject here for your enjoyment.

That may not have been the best metaphor. Oh well.

Anyway, what she posted was this (or something very much like it): “Another query about and ordinary teen. Why would I want to read a story about an ordinary character? Ordinary is boring. NEXT!”

At first, I thought it was mean, because, I mean, come on. We all want to tell stories about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary situations. Right? Well, I do at least. I immediately wanted to think of examples of or ordinary characters that made good books.

Harry Potter was an ordinary boy thrust into a magical world.

Bilbo Baggins was an ordinary hobbit thrust into a dangerous world of adventure.

Rand al’Thor was a shepherd thrust into a dangerous world of magic and war.

Lessa was an ordinary girl thrust into the world of Dragonriders.

Right? Turns out, I was wrong, about every last one of these.

Harry Potter was anything but ordinary. He lived under the stairs. Strange things happened to him beyond his control. He could talk to snakes. All before he got the first letter. In no way an ordinary little boy.

Bilbo was not ordinary either. He was wealthy and owned a large house. He had Took blood in him, and a whole chapter is devoted to exactly how that made him extraordinary and, gasp, adventurous. And let’s face it, Gandalf wouldn’t have picked an “ordinary” hobbit to go on this quest with the dwarves. He’s Gandalf, he doesn’t do things like that.

Rand was no where near ordinary. He was taller than most full grown men in his village, and had red hair, when no one else in the whole Two Rivers area did. His mother was a foreinger. And there was something about him that drew Moraine to him, let’s not forget. Not ordinary.

And Lessa? She may have been the worst example on this list. She was hot tempered, strong willed, the daughter of a Lord, and exceptionally cunning. And again, the dragon’s wouldn’t have picked her if she was ordinary.

Another example springs to mind as I write this. Luke Skywalker. I hear you shout “Luke was just a farmer before the Empire killed his family and Ben took him away!” But was he? I mean, Ben was only there because of who Luke’s father was. And we even get a hint about that from Uncle Owen. But even beyond that, Luke was an exceptional pilot, and a good shot, too. Those two things alone make him extraordinary.

So, after trying to prove her wrong, I was proved wrong myself.

Here’s what I learned. Ordinary characters are not the kind of people that stories happen to. Extraordinary situations happen to these people because they, themselves, are extraordinary. When the call to adventure comes, do you think an ordinary person would answer it? Not likely.

So, when making your character, make then extraordinary. Give them something they do exceptionally well. Make them stand out compared to their peers, even if it’s in an odd or potentially negative way. Adventure (or the plot of your story, if you will) are drawn to the extraordinary.

This is something I need to keep in mind as I work on my fantasy WIP, because the premise is four ordinary people trying to cope with the world ending. But, “ordinary people” are boring. These characters are not ordinary. And I need to find out why.

I highly suggest you do the same with your characters.

1 comment:

  1. Very awesome post!!! I was thinking the same thing about the character in my new YA novel. "She's just a teenager dealing with teen issues!"

    Except that she has a gift for history, she sees strange girls in the mirror, and she travels back in time, inhabiting these girls' for a short time to protect the historical timeline from a man dead-set on changing the future.

    Not so ordinary after all ;)