Our ability as writers is limited by our own understanding of human nature (Veny Armanno, QWC Year of the Novel, 2007)
The characters I love best are the ones that run counter to type. That surprise and delight by doing the unexpected, while remaining absolutely true to themselves.
By revealing hidden depths, they often unmask hidden prejudices. Think the foul-mouthed, pornography-reading grandpa in Little Miss Sunshine, an emphatic rejection of the halo-effect of aging.
A personal favourite (for reasons which shall emerge shortly) is the stepmother in the movie Juno. Her fast and furious defence of her pregnant sixteen year old stepdaughter is a standout. Satisfying because it thwarts subconscious expectations, trained by generations of wicked stepmother archetypes.
We’ve had a bad rap, we stepmothers. Not all of it undeserved. The mothering instinct is powerful, primeval and little understood by the childless. And therein lies the rub.
It wasn’t until the birth of my second child that I finally began to understand the sacrifice of my stepchildren’s mother. I wept that night, not only for the perfection of my newborn son, but for the absence of my two year old daughter; it was the first night I had ever spent away from her.
My stepchildren’s parents had endured many such nights by that time. They knew the pain of absence and bore it for the sake of their children. They have my admiration and gratitude: for what I have learned from their sacrifice and from being allowed to love their children.
They are grown now, my stepchildren – seventeen and nineteen years old – and beautiful in the eyes of their four parents. Yet when I close my eyes they are still two and four, with milk-teeth smiles, and arms chubby and soft around my neck.
Like all the best characters, I hope they continue to upset the applecart of our expectations. They, and their younger sister and brother are my never-ending story, the one that I cannot put down, that I must keep reading, to find out what happens next.