By all means, let us expunge racism, judgement, selfishness, superiority, envy, criminal thought and any sort of meanness from our own psyches, but let us feel free to load these delicious attributes high on top of our characters. Let no character go unscathed, not even our precious protagonist. Screw political correctness for each of our characters; instead, turn them into real human beings with real thoughts and feelings.
If there are no conflicts or difficulties or if nothing happens to anybody, what’s the point of reading a story? What’s the point of writing it?
The Nice Three Little Pigs
Once upon a time there were Three Little Pigs who worked together to build three houses out of donated materials for homeless pigs. The building inspector came along and even though some of the work was shoddy and the equipment far from standard, he didn’t want to hurt the feelings of these hard workers so he put Passed Inspection stickers on each of the three houses. Everyone lived happily ever after.
The Nice Little Red Riding Hood
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Little Red Riding Hood. That wasn’t her real name, but because her loving grandmother had made her a red cape, everyone called her that. One day she was walking to her grandmother’s house with a basket of vegetables and one of Granny’s neighbours saw her and ran ahead to tell Granny to get out of her night clothes and get dressed for company. A woodsman saw the neighbour do this, so he gathered up the wood he had chopped and ran to the house with it so there would be a lovely fire in the fireplace for company. Everyone lived happily ever after.
The Nice Goldilocks & the Three Bears
Once upon a time there was a little girl named Goldilocks. She went for a walk in the woods one day and came to a cabin. She thought of going inside to look around but knew that it would be considered Breaking & Entering if she did, so she sat on the porch and waited. Before long, a lovely couple with their son arrived and invited her in. They enjoyed tea and chocolate cake and then she went back home. Everyone lived happily ever after.
If these stories had been written like this, would they have affected us as children so deeply?
I recently recalled a story my mother would remind me of at chore time, “Remember what happened to those lazy ones in ‘The Little Red Hen’, Sherrill. She did all the work so the lazy ones got nothing.” Being reminded of this story certainly made me feel guilty enough to pitch in and try to do even more of my share for fear of abandonment and starvation. (For those of you who are not familiar with it, here’s a link: http://www.enchantedlearning.com/stories/fairytale/littleredhen/story/ )
I cannot tell you how strong a work ethic this story inspired in me (no doubt because of how scarily it was presented). Imagine if this story had been written with sweetness and light, written with niceness. Would I have identified with the dog, the cat or the duck back when I was 7 or 8 years old? Of course, I would have. I preferred to go out and play with my friends, not set the table and do the dishes and tidy up after my little sister.
Once upon a time there was a Little Red Hen who found some grain in her yard. She planted it and harvested it, took it to the mill for grinding, made bread out of it and handed it out to her friends and neighbours. Everyone lived happily ever after.
[Please note that including this last story — or any of the others — is not meant as any kind of political statement. And including this note in the first place is not meant as any kind of political statement either. I’m citing Mom’s warnings to show how a story that includes characters with faults can affect a story, therefore a reader/readee. Another note is that I think I heard recently that fairy tales and fables are now considered to be “inappropriate for children”. Did I imagine that?]
If we want to touch our readers as deeply as possible, we must toss out “niceness” and bring into our characters figurative halitosis and smelly armpits at the very least. My next post will expand on this by showing how we can introduce conflict even between the nicest of folks.
Next Post — Conflict is Required
Sherrill Wark is the author of Really Stupid Writing Mistakes: How to Avoid Them: http://www.amazon.com/Really-Stupid-Writing-Mistakes-Avoid/dp/1479308226
… and Death in l’Acadie: a Kesk8a story (fiction): http://www.amazon.com/Death-lAcadie-Kesk8a-Sherrill-Wark/dp/1511501154/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8