Saturday, March 26, 2011

She Loved Tara

By Keith N Fisher

How many of you grew up thinking Scarlett O’Hara was a real person and Tara was a real place in Georgia? Okay, I didn’t either, but that character was so well drawn, I feel I know her very well.

In learning the craft of writing, we discover two basic types of characters, protagonists and antagonists. Yes, there are different sub classes, sidekicks, walk ons, mentors. Etc, but basically you need two main types in a story.

In delving further, we learn that an antagonist can be a thing or a feeling. But basically, the protagonist is the good guy (the one we root for). The antagonist, of course, is the opposite, the villain.

What happens when the star of the book has more villainistic qualities then good?”

Many of you might remember the 80’s television show, Dallas. TV Guide once applauded a character from that show by saying JR Ewing is the man you love to hate. Now JR was clearly a real antagonist. He messed with everybody and everybody hated him. The writers never showed a good side to that character and justifiably so. He, after all, was the villain.

In Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell wrote many clearly drawn antagonists like General Sherman, although we never actually see him in the story. Another one is the Yankee soldier who slowly climbs the stairs to rape Scarlott. We let out a cleansing breath and applaud when she shoots him dead.

There are also many protagonists, Ashley Wilkes, Mammy, and who doesn’t admire Melanie? With all the good and decent protagonists, the Scarlett character seems almost enigmatic. She’s so selfish we want to slap her silly, but we love and sympathize with her, at the same time. The interesting part is she never changes. She’s just as selfish, spoiled, conniving, and despicable as when we see her on the first page. So why do we love that character? How can we, in good conscience, call her a protagonist?

I think the secret is in what she loves and how deeply she loves. Her feelings are clear from the beginning. We know she loves her home, and we know whom she loves. We also know she is willing to do anything to protect those people and things. The character has a strong personality that plays second to know one.

Okay, so, in the first half of the book, she marries one guy to get back at the man she loves, She doesn’t feel remorse when her husband, dies in the war. Then, she lies about her sister’s interest in another man just so she can marry him and use his money to go into the lumber business. She sent him to his death and gets drunk because she realizes she’s liable to go to hell for doing it. But does she show actual remorse?

Well, As Rhett Butler, another character put it, You're like the thief who isn't the least bit sorry he stole, but is terribly, terribly sorry he's going to jail.

Yes she’s a real peach of a person and the antagonist to everyone else in the story, but she’s also a protagonist and we can’t seem to figure out why. Even Mammy can’t help but love her, Maybe it’s because she does what she wants to do and doesn’t care what people think.

Mitchell makes us feel sorry for her on several occasions. We even admire her when she rules with a firm uncaring hand in order to support her family after the Yankees decimate Georgia.

Writers learn to write characters with faults in order to make them real, but what faults can we give them and still make them believable? How far can we go before they they become laughable? What if Scarlott was ugly or had a speech impediment? What if she was weak and indecisive? Would we still love her then? Scarlott O’Hara is a wonderful character with shallow thoughts and deeds, but those shallow thoughts are very deep.

“Huh?” you ask?

Well, I told you she was an enigma. I. For one, applaud Margaret Mitchell for drawing her. She found the perfect balance. May you also, find this balance and write characters who jump off the page and take on a life of their own.

By the way, there’s a girl in the neighborhood named Margaret, who gives Dennis the Menace a hard time. What would happen if she married Dennis? Her name would be Margaret Mitchell.

Good Luck with your writing—see you next week.


Tristi Pinkston said...

Keith, this was an excellent post - one of your best ever. Thanks for sharing these thoughts.

Rebecca said...

Wonderful post! Thanks!