Theatre director and writers or their characters will often cast against type. Think about the sweet, innocent child who wrecks havoc on his playmates and siblings—a monster who cannot be saved by parents, priest or psychiatrist. Example: The Bad Seed written by William March, later made into a film, where a mother begins to believe her child could be a cold-blooded murderer.
And who hasn’t written or read about the handsome, personable and—oh yes—intelligent man—unfortunately a serial killer—who revels in matching wits with detectives, police or the FBI? There’s a prime example in Dr. Hannibal Lecter, starring in a series of horror novels, penned by Thomas Harris. How many readers fall for the virginal, usually blonde ingénue whose obsessive love, jealousy and neediness will ruin the lives of people whose lives touch hers. Read Leave her to Heaven written by Ben Ames Williams—another novel to film with Gene Tierney, Jeanne Crain and Cornell Wilde.
The affectionate relative or teacher who turns out to be a pedophile? Or not? Doubt—a play written by John Patrick Shanley kept audience members debating for days after they left the theater. Did Father Flynn molest the boy or was Sister Aloysius, a woman of iron convictions, accusing an innocent man who was guilty of nothing but befriending the child and personalizing the priesthood?
The bad stepmother has been handed down from old folk tales—what about Snow White and her jealous stepmother—the Queen—characters written by the Brothers Grimm. Books that tell us about the good stepmother who gives her all? There aren’t many. One that stands out is Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner. The story takes place after the geisha Cio-Cio San kills herself leaving her child Benjie to her lover—the child’s father and his new American wife. The author’s inspiration—Puccini’s opera—Madame Butterfly. Perhaps more books are waiting to be written about the good stepmother.
When my creation twists, turns and changes the route I jotted down so carefully—I have to pay attention. A call from my character may be a surprise—sometimes pleasant, sometimes not—that alters the course of my book. I try to be ready to embark on an entirely different escapade. A not to be missed venture into the unknown.
How do you handle your characters?