Elizabeth: Stock Characters

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I’ll admit it, I’m an anglophile.

I like books and shows set in England/Britain; I like to travel there; I enjoy the accents when I watch the BBC; and don’t get me started on scones and clotted cream.

Naturally, one of the pages I follow on Facebook is The Royal Family.  They post lots and lots of pictures that enable me to enjoy a curated fairy-tale like royal experience from a distance, without being bothered by those pesky less-than-delightful details of real-life.

Periodically I am foolish enough to read the comments people make on the pictures, usually when it is a photo of someone I don’t recognize, like the Earl and Countess of Wessex in today’s photos.  They are apparently well-liked, because the comments were polite and positive, but other photos seem to bring out the worst in the commenters.

Most recently, the vitriol has aimed at the Duchess of Sussex.  There are an appalling number of posters who were apparently never taught, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, and seem to feel it is their duty to criticize her hair, clothes, make-up, family history, and pretty much everything else about her.  On occasion, their vitriol morphs and they begin attacking each other like piranhas.  Sad, really.  It’s one of the definite drawbacks of the anonymity of the internet.  Sure people were catty before the existence of the internet, but they didn’t have a vehicle that let them spew their negativity so far and so fast.

During the latest royal wedding, when commenters got tired of criticizing every aspect of the bride-to-be, those who apparently consider themselves “royal protocol experts” took up the slack.  Truly, it’s amazing how many people living in the middle of Nowhere, USA, are so well versed in royal protocol that they were able to point out every single thing that was done wrong.  Naturally, of course, there were then other “experts” who felt compelled to correct the errors of the initial “experts” in an unending cycle.

Normally I step away after the first few negative comments, even if it means not knowing the identify of everyone in the picture in question, but sometimes . .  sometimes, reading the comments is like looking at an accident on the side of the road.  You know you should look away, but morbid fascination draws your glance nonetheless.

As with many things, however, even negativity has its bright side.  There are some interesting characters to be found amongst those commenters, just as there are in real-life.

My writer’s-toolbox is already filled with a number of basic characters.  I think of them like those paper dolls I used to play with when I was a kid.  You remember them, right – the blank cardboard bodies that you dressed with the clothes, shoes, hats, etc., held on precariously with those little folding paper tabs?   A figure could go from a housewife to a nurse to a dancer in the time it took to carefully punch out a new set of clothes.

My characters don’t have the cool punch-out clothes, but they do change, based on the story they wind up in.  The basic set includes the heroine, her quirky best-friend (isn’t there always one?), the hero, his core group of friends (from work, the military, school, or wherever), and that distant family member that is always in the hero/heroine’s corner, even when no one else is.

Now, thanks to the comments section on Facebook, I have a new stock character to add:  the know-nothing know-it-all.  It’s that person who thinks they have all the answers, but really they don’t.

In a Regency story, the KNKIA can typically be found in a ballroom, spreading gossip.  Because they don’t know what they are talking about, they can often make things difficult for our hero/heroine, although they can be intentionally be used to spread helpful mis-information as well.  In a mystery story, the KNKIA can be a wonderful red herring.  They can help muddy the waters and cause a great deal of confusion, on both sides of the crime.  I don’t yet have a role for a KNKIA in my current contemporary story, but next time I’m at an impasse, I may just find a place for one.  After all, I’ve already added a dog.

So, where do you get inspiration for characters?  Do you have some basic characters that, with a change of clothes, profession, and name tend to occur from story to story?

5 thoughts on “Elizabeth: Stock Characters

  1. I think it’s wonderful that you can find inspiration in the comments section of news articles. I always find these very depressing and aggravating. But of course real people write that stuff, and inspiration can be found everywhere. Sometimes I think I have only about four characters, and I just change their clothes and write them again with different occupations. My stack story!

    Edited to add: Oy, vey! Should have been “My stock story.” Sheesh.

    • Kay, considering the commenters as character inspiration is my way of distracting myself from the fact that there are just some very mean people out there. Turning them into story characters is just a creative way of coping.

  2. I had no idea the royal family had a Facebook page, Elizabeth! Sorry to hear that the commenters have been so horrible about the Duchess of Sussex. She seems like a lovely, natural person and a welcome addition to the real-life soap opera. Did you know that there’s another royal wedding on the calendar this month? I don’t keep up with these things, so only just found out that Princess Eugenie is getting married in Windsor next week. That should give the pseudo-experts another spectacle to criticize.

    And yes, I constantly return to broadly the same set of characters, community structure and themes. I think many (most?) writers have a core story that crops up again and again. Thank goodness for those cool punch-out clothes 😉

    • Jilly – I think pretty much everyone has a Facebook page these days. I did hear about Princess Eugenie’s marriage – I still think of her being a little girl. Hopefully the media will be nice, though I’m sure there will be the typical assortment of critics.

      I think you’re write about the core story and character/community/theme set. I just vary the time-period to make them all seem different 🙂

  3. I was just reading in The Atlantic that the internet enables the rapid formation of mobs, in the exact manner you describe. Mob mentality is a bad thing.

    The fifth? book in my Touched by A Demon series will focus on the sin of Envy, as we see it play out today in social media today. Adding this to my notes for that book.

    You’ve given me something else to think about, though: do I have stock characters? I have seven, I think, completed manuscripts (the first two only 100 pages long because I had no clue what I was doing) but I don’t think the characters recur from book to book.

    Even in my demon series, Dara from Book 1 is nothing like Keeffe from Book 2, and Belial is nothing like Bad. And none of them are like Megan and James from the third book.

    All of them, of course, represent some portion of my own personality/character–even Lilith, which may be why I view her with the same horrified fascination a surgery patient looks at a 20 pound tumor that was just removed from her abdomen–“Did that really come out of me?”

    I started out very plot driven, but eventually realized you need a balance between plot and character, with each shaping the other, to make a good story. Even now, though, I start with a premise and then devise the characters that allow me to best tell that story.

    I’ll have to leave it to others to depict the similarities I’m not seeing.

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