Would you want to read a story about any of the following people?
A jealous leader with control issues, a clumsy twenty-something, a sickeningly-perfect employee, an overprotective single parent, a husband trying to relive the glory days, an arrogant jerk without any friends, a rat, a lonely guy who does the same job every day, a cranky old man, and a rebellious teenager.
These sound like tired old clichés . . . until you realize that they’re the protagonists of ten different Pixar movies (Woody, Flick, Sulley, Marlin, Mr. Incredible, Lightning McQueen, Remy, Wall-e, Carl, and Merida, respectively.)
You could easily write a formulaic story using the general descriptions I listed in the first paragraph. None of these characters are particularly original, to be honest. There’s no paraplegic ex-flame-thrower who wants to be a librarian or a megalomaniac dwarf who is deathly afraid of luna moths. They’re all bordering on stock characters, people you might see every day at the grocery story.
But the story transforms them.
Why do you relate to them? Because they’re not perfect.
Why do you care about them? Because . . . well . . .
There’s just something there. They’re trying. They have redeeming qualities, and lots of them. You believe they’ll do the right thing in the end.
And they’re interesting. Really, the short phrase I used at the beginning doesn’t describe who they really are. Take Wall-e, for example. Is he really “a lonely guy who does the same job every day” or is he a determined little robot who loves so much it hurts?
Go ahead and take a stereotype and use it for a character in a story. Just do everything else in such a way that people don’t care. Let the story take someone fairly normal and bring out qualities or actions that aren’t normal.
And, if you’re not a writer, be Pixar average.
Let’s face it: I am a stock character (and so are most of you). For example, I would say I’m a slightly awkward nerd.
But that’s not really who I am, just like those short phrases can’t really describe Woody or Marlin or Carl, not if you’ve seen them in action. You wouldn’t know much about me if that one stereotype is all you knew, or even a string of stereotypes.
You know me when you know my story, because a good story transforms stereotypes.
And I am pretty much determined to live a good story. I admit, it has its boring chapters and moments when the characters, including me, aren’t all that likeable. But I want to be the kind of average that is remarkable.
Ever since elementary school, people have told you that you’re special. Well, you are. And you’re not.
There are thousands of people who can do what you can as well or better. There are probably millions of people with your personality type. Very few things that you say or do are completely original.
But you are also the only one with your particular talents put in your particular situation. Sometimes, you may be the only one who will say something that needs to be said. The choices you make on a daily basis may not change the world, but it might change another person, even in a small way. (I already wrote more details about this in another blog post, here, so that’s all I’ll say about that.)