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Posts tagged ‘PG Wodehouse’

The Enduring Appeal of ‘A Kid With Spots’ in Fiction, TV, Movies & YouTube

There’s a character we love, in all forms of media.

Rory Barker, Researcher and Fall Guy on James May's Man Lab

Rory Barker, Researcher and Fall Guy on James May’s Man Lab

Is he the exciting hero? Is he clever, bold, handsome, courageous?

No. He’s a bit downbeat and low-key. A bit dumb. He drifts around in the background looking vacant.

And he’s the one we find most endearing.

He’s  Rory Williams in Doctor Who Series 5-7.

He’s Rory Barker, who started as Junior Researcher in James May’s Man Lab.

We love them!

They’re in fiction too.

PG Wodehouse traded on them in his comic novels. Step forward Gussie Fink-Nottle. He’s Bertie Wooster’s friend, with a face like a fish. Gussie who’s  ‘not quite with it’, he’s ‘caught up in his own world’ (which, in Gussie’s case, is an obsession with newts).

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle understood the archetypal power of this character too – in Dr John Watson, who seems dumb next to his brilliant colleage, Sherlock Holmes.

Among TV drama series we find Merlin. He plays this role for the benefit of Arthur, who doesn’t understand who Merlin truly is.

This character is ‘a bit of  dill’, ‘a bit simple’.

Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams in Doctor Who

Arthur Darvill as Rory Williams in Doctor Who

And YouTube high-flyers like Charlie McDonnell also understand the appeal of this character. He’s under-stated, he’s self-deprecating.

Among young adult novels, The Declaration Trilogy by Gemma Malley has a character called Jude, who entered in the second novel of the trilogy, and who very quickly became my favourite character.

Ben Wishaw as Q in Skyfall James Bond

Ben Wishaw as Q in Skyfall James Bond

And in films we find Q in Skyfall – ‘a kid with spots’, as OO7 points out when he first meets him in an art gallery.

‘My complexion is hardly relevant,’ he says to Bond.

These characters are anti-heroes who endear themselves to us. Another name for this character-type is “the ingenue”.

Long live the anti-heroes.

Our love for them tells us something very heartening about human nature.

Mental and Emotional Byways, Complexes and Hang-Ups in Fictional Characters

Having just read an interesting blog post about depression,  I was led to reflect upon how easy it is  to allow your own “principles” to override compassion, empathy and honesty about the reality of human life. This applies to all of us, but there is a special challenge here for those of us who write stories, and need to create convincing characters.

 We won’t get very far as writers if our fictional characters come over as wooden or contrived or artificial. To guard against that,  authors needs a basic understanding of psychology. That can come either through study, or through personal experience, or through observation. As I’ve mentioned before in posts on this blog, I feel that a knowledge of Jungian psychological concepts is useful. Here for example is Carl Jung’s theory of Complexes.

A complex, as developed in the writings of  Jung, may be defined as “a core pattern of emotions, memories, perceptions and wishes in the personal unconscious organised around a common theme such as power or status.” The notion of a “complex” may even be misused in common speech: we may too readily hear of someone described as having an inferiority / guilt / martyr complex. But this can be fruitful for a creative writer; though it has to be handled with care.

1. An inferiority complex may lead your character to interpret everything in the light of this set of notions: “I’m not good enough,” “my opinions don’t count”; “I’m afraid to put myself forward”. Take P.G.Wodehouse as an example; see Jeeves and The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy among numerous other stories. Here we often meet shy young men attempting to battle those who are louder, bigger, better-looking, more powerful and more self-confident, to win the girl they love.

2. Often,whether a fictional character displays a certain complex can be a matter of interpretation by the reader. I suggest a martyr complex may be behind the outlook and actions of Thomas Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Tess behaves like a heroic martyr sacrificing herself. Many readers may feel Tess casts herself in the role of victim.

3. The guilt complex is used extensively in Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov. Many characters experience intense guilt; but the exception to this is Smerdyakov who murders Fyodor yet does not blame himself; though he’s the only character technically guilty, he feels the least liability for it. Thus the author sheds light on some of his own religious questions and doubts.

So there’s plenty of inspiration here for fiction writers, as we  develop characters who will inspire love, pity, fury or even soul-searching in our readers. Our job is to create characters we know and care about as much as ourselves. As crime writer Martin Edwards says in his article on “Developing Characters and Their Relationships”,  “characters in books don’t exist in a vacuum, just as real people don’t. To create characters that seem to live and breathe, taking care over how they relate to other people in the story isn’t just a sensible idea. It’s absolutely vital.”  And if we try to let “principles” stand in the way of compassion & empathy, we can be sure our own stories will find us out!

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