Friday, January 8, 2016

Character Role Models

By Sandy Parks

Readers love the underdog, who comes from bad life circumstances and grows into a strong hero or heroine. Imagine the street urchin, who fights his way to become becomes rich and famous, or the gal disowned by her dysfunctional family, who goes on to be the perfect nanny for someone’s children or the best bad ass detective at the precinct.

It is highly unlikely that a child who grows up on the streets will suddenly develop a sense of what is right and wrong, and why morals even matter without intervention at a young age. If your character is tough and from the streets, then you need to show how he learned gained the savvy to run a business (and work with the people in it) without someone in life to plant the appropriate seeds of behavior.
Since Daughters Day is coming up, I thought this family photo, of a father pinning on his daughter's new flight wings in front of her aircraft, was a fitting role model photo.

In order to be believable, we have to know a character gained heroic traits somewhere in their past. It is when your character encounters the adventure/thriller/mystery/romance you create, that those traits surface. In all likelihood, somewhere in their life, a role model has intervened. It may even be somebody the character doesn’t recognize as one.

Think about Luke Skywalker trapped on Tatooine, working on his uncle’s moisture farm. Basically he is an orphan raised by relatives who don’t understand his dreams. Moviegoers know that not far away crazy, old man Obi Wan is watching over him and telling him tales of the galaxy beyond his reach. He’s teaching Luke to expand his mind and be a dreamer. Luke also sees his uncle working hard to support his family and take care of a nephew who at times acts rather ungrateful. He raises Luke because it’s the right thing to do. Whether Luke knows it or not, those traits do rub off and perhaps give him the fortitude to not give up, and understand what people who love one another are willing to sacrifice.

What if your heroine was a street urchin abandoned because her mother is an addict and her father is in jail. Is it a minister at the nearby church who gives her money for odd jobs and teaches her about growing prize orchids that leads her to some day save and scrimp to build a gardening empire?

Think of the stories about twins separated in childhood. What makes one good and the other evil? One had a positive role model somewhere, maybe not the other. It can be a teacher, a minister, a storekeeper, a homeless man (many have some incredible backgrounds of their own), an aunt, or a Jedi.

How does a woman know the right kind of man to add to her life if she lost her father at a young age? How does a man in a family of five brothers and no mother know when he finds the right woman? Put a woman in his life when he is young that teaches him about strong women, or smart ones, or nurturing ones, or ones with a sense of adventure.


So when creating a character background, don’t forget to have a role model somewhere who plants the seeds of what make her heroic.

7 comments:

Maureen A. Miller said...

Very good point, Sandy, and very moving. Role models mold us into what we are today.

Marcelle Dubé said...

Excellent advice, Sandy! I particularly like the idea of role models we only recognize later in life.

Julie Moffett said...

Love this post, and, of course, love the photo of Katy and Brad! Great advice!! :)

Anne Marie Becker said...

Such a fabulous post, Sandy! I always look at childhoods when developing characters and motivations, goals, etc., but didn't think of it in terms of role models. Very interesting.

Sandy Parks said...

Thanks for all the comments. I'm lucky I had good role models. Still do at my age. LOL I also remember the year my father was in Vietnam and sitting in church every week next to this grandmother type woman (never knew her name). I would spot her when I came in and I can now guess she probably saved my family a seat. She liked to talk and was friendly. On confirmation day she gave me a pen with folded hands on the clip (something she didn't have to do) and offered a few profound words (which I don't remember). I had that pen for years. Funny that I still remember her, but it makes me think about how somebody you would never expect could build a role model relationship with a young person over time.

Rita said...

Oh! Sandy this is wonderful. Thank you for sharing. You ALWAYS have such great posts.

Sandy Parks said...

Thanks, Rita.