In writing and in life we humans have a tendency to put things into types. I’m no expert, but I wonder if this doesn’t have something to do with learning when we’re little? We see a picture of a dog, we learn it’s a dog, and thereafter we see all things that look like dogs and put them in the “dog” type. Same goes with a lot of things, I’d imagine.
And then there are the more dangerous “types.” Actors get typecast a lot. (So I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know. I’ve never been an actress.)
Last night on ABC’s show Castle, we got to see the writers break apart types even further. I love this show. And I’ll tell you why, beside the fact that Nathan Fillion could not be more dashingly charming. It’s because Castle isn’t a type. Sure you might think he is if you only see a handful of scenes. In the opening scene of the entire series he’s at the massive launch party for his latest book. (I think. It’s been a while.) He’s acting out the eligible bachelor playboy type very well.
Then, as time goes by in the series, and even in the first episode, you start to see a different side of him. He’s a dad, too. And not just that, he’s a really good dad. My favorite line from last night’s episode came from the detective Castle shadows. She commented on how Castle acts like a 12 year old so much of the time that it’s “refreshing” to see him be a dad. He’s a responsible parent. But he also respects his daughter, who in turn respects him and doesn’t really get into a lot of trouble. See, she’s not a type either.
Another great example of breaking type comes from a poem by James Tate titled Goodtime Jesus.
Jesus got up one day a little later than usual. he had been dream-
ing so deep there was nothing left in his head. what was it?
A nightmare, dead bodies walking all around him, eyes rolled
back, skin falling off. But he wasn’t afraid of that. It was a beau-
tiful day. How ’bout some coffee? Don’t mind if I do. Take a little
ride on my donkey. I love that donkey. Hell, I love everybody.
So, it’s a little irreverant. But it breaks type. You see the character not as He is depicted in the Bible, or even how most Christian religions try to depict the one they call Redeemer. You see Him as a little boy who’s just going about his normal life. Tate makes Him more human. And breaks from the type that we usually associate with this figure.
We can do this same thing in our writings. In fact, for our primary and even some secondary characters, it’s essential. When I was planning out Oracles Promise, a character came into being that essentially consists of two types–the bookish scholar and the damaged recluse. Maybe damaged isn’t the right word. But she does have a fairly tragic event in her past that left her both physically and emotionally scarred. So there are types. How did I break them? The one came to being from the other. Sure there were natural bookish tendencies to begin with but after this tragic event, they became her solace. Maybe I’m still working within types, but I’m mixing them up, incorporating multiples to give deeper layers to my character.
And remember, “ogres are like onions” meaning “they have layers.” And not just ogres, but people and our characters.
How do you break types in your writings? Is it something you struggle with? Are you offended by the poem I put in here? (It’s ok. I kinda was the first time I read it, but it really fit with what I was talking about.)