Saturday, September 22, 2012

Writing to the Bell Curve


This is my first blog post with YA Outside the Lines. *waves* HI! I'm very excited to be here and hope you like my post.

Wow, what a topic. Characters on the fringes. 

The more I thought about it, the more I realized all of my favorite characters were on some sort of fringe, some sort of unusual edge that places them outside the world where they want to be, some sort of precipice where their actions don’t merely invite conflict, they make indelible marks on readers.
What is this fringe? It’s the outer limits, the edge of some boundary, anything that falls outside the standard bell curve. Statisticians hate outliers; many delete them from their analyses, preferring to focus their attentions on the masses. But authors? Oh, we love our outliers. 



Take Edward Cullen, for example. As vampires goes, he’s a statistical anomaly. He doesn’t drink humans and he sparkles! Not exactly normal. Memorable, though.  I love his response to Bella when she asks why he abstains. “I don’t want to be a monster.”  Even if you remove the vampire portion of this equation, Edward is still on fringes. He’s the odd man out in his own family – the only unmated member of the household.  Among the humans with whom he tries to blend in, he reads minds. Among the female collective, he’s portrayed as a sex god, but his own Victorian upbringing prevents him from enjoying all that attention. In every group he's placed, Edward falls outside the curve.  (Note: Bella, conversely, is a character readers LOVE to pick on. Perhaps it's because of where she falls on this curve? Discuss... )

Let’s look at Veronica Roth’s popular Divergent character, “Four.” (Spoiler alert) His very name tells us he doesn’t fit in with the rest of the Dauntless. He's not 'normal.' 

One of my favorite characters is Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger, who reminds me of another favorite character, Dana Scully from The X-Files. Both are extremely intelligent women who have little to no popularity with the opposite sex. It takes both Ron Weasley and Fox Mulder YEARS to see these women as more than merely fonts of knowledge. While most girls Hermione’s age are off cheerleading or hitting the mall, she’s memorizing Hogwarts: A History. The boys may be slow, but eventually, both Ron and Fox came to love their ladies not in spite of their minds, but for them. 

While we’re at it, let’s look at pretty much everyone in the Game of Thrones. You’ve got a top-level royal advisor in a city where politics and duplicity infiltrate every level. His honesty and loyalty get him killed (Ned Stark). You’ve got a cruel henchman whose very name makes people shiver but is brought to his knees by the sight of fire (The Hound, Sandor Clegane). There's even a small girl undeterred by fear itself (Arya Stark) even though her father is dead and she's miles from her home and all alone. And finally, there’s The Imp, the dwarf and great embarrassment to House Lannister constantly defending his right to exist and who just may be the biggest character ever written.

The sum total of all these statistical anomalies is conflict in truckloads. Imagine Edward without the mindreading, without his Victorian sensibilities, without his dedication to abstinence from blood. Imagine Four as just Tobias. Imagine Hermione as a typical teenage girl. Where would their stories be if these characters fell inside those standard distributions? 

Characters who are more – or sometimes less -- than what society, their station, their sex, or their social circumstances dictate are all on the fringes. Statisticians can afford to ignore the few who fall outside the bell curve.

But authors should not. 

Who are your favorite fringe characters and why? I want to test my theory that we love these characters more for their fringe-ness :)  [Extra love to anyone who identifies the reference in my rather crude bell curve artwork above.]

12 comments:

  1. I always liked Matilda in Roald Dahl's book, because she was so different from her family and most of her classmates; she was so smart and liked to read. I think that a lot of readers can relate to fringe characters, because a lot of people know what it's like to be different.

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  2. Fabulous first post! One of my favorites is green girl Elphaba of WICKED!

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  3. Harriet the Spy. Loved that book when I was twelve. Read it again recently and was amazed by how truly fringy Harriet is.

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    1. And how tough, since it never bothered her.

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  4. LOVE the phrase "conflict in truckloads."

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  5. What a great idea for a post. And I especially related because my WIP is titled "On the Fringe."

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    1. I can't take credit for the post topic but glad you liked it.

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