Monday, January 20, 2014

Character Study: Rumpelstiltskin


My family recently finished watching the first season of the TV show Once Upon a Time, the premise of which is that the Evil Queen has banished all the fairytale characters to a world where there are supposedly no happy endings: our world.

My very favorite character arc is that of Rumpelstiltskin, one of the villains. Now, I'm not a girl that loves villains. I know there are people out there who just love Loki and Moriarty, but I am not one of them. Rumpel was the first villain (in recent memory) that I really, really liked. For this post, I'm going to try and explain what I think caused me to like him so much, and what makes him such a compelling character and villain. I've thought of two big reasons.

1. His back story. Actually, I just looked at his page on the OUAT Wiki, and there's a lot about him that I don't know yet, so I'm not sure I can accurately speak on this subject. The point I had in mind was that before he got his powers, he was very weak. He walked with a limp, he was scared of losing his son, and he was a bit of a coward. After he got his powers, though, that all changed. He went and single-handedly stopped a war, he had powers that let him do pretty much whatever he wanted, and people were scared of him. He wasn't the weak man people picked on any more. After a lifetime of being a weak coward, I imagine the confidence and powers he gained were addictive, and fed something in him that relished being the powerful one people feared. Therefore he loved his powers, and never wanted to go back to the way things were before.

We sympathize with that. We feel for the underdog and like to see him rise to greatness... it's just that Rumpelstiltskin's form of greatness was also a form of evil.

2. There are things that he loves, and they come into conflict. I've heard the advice before that giving your villain something he loves makes him more interesting, and Rumpel really drove that home. There are three big things he loves: his son, Belle, and his power. Twice during this season, he has to choose between a person he loves and his power. Both times, he chooses his power. And he regrets it.

I think part of what makes this work is that we also love the people he loves. We want to see him pick them. Because the people he loves are good, and they have just a little bit of power over him, there's always a shred of hope that they'll turn him to the good side. And that doesn't fade when he chooses his power over those he loves, because he regrets those choices, and we hope that he will learn from his regret and become good.

And despite the fact that he's freaky and scary, we feel sympathetic toward him, because he lost someone he loved (and we loved), and that's sad. 

If what he loved was a really nasty cat that bit and clawed everyone but him, we wouldn't care. He's evil, and he loves and evil cat. So what? That's not as interesting as an evil person loving someone good, and seeing the conflict between their goodness and evil. In the cat example, we'd just want to see the cat die. Now, if the cat DID die, and we saw him suffer for it, that might be interesting, but I don't think it would have the emotional impact that Rumpelstiltskin losing his son had.

In my opinion, the things Rumpel loves and the fact that they conflict with each other are the main reasons why he's such and interesting and complex character. The back story just informs this and makes it all the more powerful.

And just for fun, what if cat in the cat example were actually a person? Say, and evil wife or brother or best friend, but who was just as evil as the villain. If he lost that person, the audience wouldn't care as much. Actually, depending on the context of the story, it could still be interesting, but my point is that if the audience as well as the villain cares for this brother/best friend/wife/whatever, then we will mourn their loss with the villain, instead of just understanding why he's upset and waiting for the heroes to shoot him.

What do you think of my analysis? Have you come to other conclusions? I'd love to hear what you think, even if you've never seen Once Upon a Time and want to use another character as an example.

And a lovely day/afternoon/morning/whatever to you. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

TCWT January 2014 blog chain: Dream Co-authors

Time for another Teens Can Write, Too! blog chain. This month's theme is:

“If you could co-write a book with one author–living or not–who would it be and what would the book be about?”

This is a good one.

First of all, I'm not sure I'd want to actually co-author something, but maybe just be apprenticed to a great writer and learn from them. Of course, if I did that, I'd probably give my input on the book, so I'd sort of be co-authoring.


Since this prompt includes dead authors, I choose Charles Dickens. I've only read Little Dorrit, and the first chapter or so of Bleak House, but I've seen the miniseries based on each multiple times, and the characters and plotting are amazing. Everyone is connected to someone else and influences the plot in some way. It's spectacular.

Example from Little Dorrit (CONTAINS SPOILERS): Ms. Wade, a side character you don't see too often, meets Arthur Clennam (the love interest) in Marseille, where they also meet the Meagles. Arthur starts to fall for the Meagle's daughter, Pet. Pet, however, as the story progresses, falls for Mr. Gowan. Who you later find out jilted Ms. Wade. Now, Ms. Wade also tries to lure Harriet, the Meagle's adopted daughter-but-they-treat-her-like-a-favorite-servant away from the Meagles. When, in the middle of the story, Harriet finally leaves the Meagles and goes to live with Ms. Wade, you find out Ms. Wade is involved with Riguad, a creepy-as-all-get-out murderer. He gives her a box to her for safe keeping. Eventually, out of boredom, Harriet opens it, and finds blackmail-worthy documents about Arthur, his family, and how it connects to Little Dorrit's family. Ms. Wade is also involved with Mr. Casby, who monkeys with the plot in other ways, and who's daughter was once in love with Arthur.


Oh, delicious complexity. I could learn so much from Dickens. About characters, plotting, weaving together subplots...

The downside, other than his being dead, is that while his stories are genius (at least the one's I've read/seen) his prose can be kind of... tedious to read sometimes. Given that the man was paid by the word, this is not surprising, but it might drive me crazy. However, the opening chapter of Bleak House starts with this wonderful description of fog, so I could still learn from it. I could learn to be patient with lengthy and verbose prose if it meant I could write with him.

As to what our book would be about... Well, it'd be set in Victorian England, obviously, and be nice and complex, with lots of different emotions and subplots. Maybe the MC(s) would go through a couple of changes of circumstance. Rags to riches, perhaps. Maybe it could involve pirates. And one character could be a grave digger. (Random ideas.)

My second choice would be Brandon Sanderson (and he's even alive!), the author of the Mistborn books, which are currently my favorite series. I've learned so much from his Writing Excuses podcast, I'm sure I'd learn even more working with him. (Confession: I've daydreamed about being a guest star on Writing Excuses.) Like Dickens, his plotting and characters are wonderful, as are his magic systems. The biggest downside to working with him would be the fact that he writes books the size of my thesaurus. Of course, so did Dickens, and Sanderson's prose isn't such a loquacious quagmire. So, were I to co-author with either of them, I would have to learn to be patient with very long books. There are worse things to endure.

If I were to write a book with Sanderson, it would have an awesome magic system, mind-blowing plot twists, and characters I adored. Maybe it, too, would be about pirates and grave diggers. Grave digging magic system, maybe...?

Maybe not. 

I believe that is all I have to say on this matter at this time. Be sure to check out the rest of the posts on the chain!

5th –
6th –
7th –
8th –
9th –
10th – [Andrea. No link for her yet.] ... Hmm. Okay then.
11th –
12th –
13th –
14th –
15th –
16th –
17th –
18th – (We’ll be announcing the topic for next month’s chain.)

And a lovely day/night/whatever to you all!