Things we know about fairy tales:
- If there’s a step-mother, she’s evil.
- The prince ends up with the girl whether he’s done anything to deserve her or not.
- Good always wins.
- The good one is always very, VERY good. Like making friends with woodland creatures and
earning the help of fairy god-mothers kind of good.
We don’t read fairy tales because they’re full of suspense. The plots are pretty cut and dry. The good one is hated by the evil one without cause. The hated one either tricks the good one creating an issue the good one overcomes or the hated one simply makes life miserable for the good one until something is done to free her from her pain. Something happens and the good ones win while the bad ones get what’s coming to them. Of course, their consequences don’t come from the good ones. They’re too good for that.
It’s become popular in recent years to retell the old stories. Instead of the same old, same old, we get backstory on both the heroes and the villains. In the movie Ever After, we find that the step-mother is jealous of Cinderella and the road to happiness for Cinderella has some potholes. In Maleficent we find there’s more to Maleficent than simply being evil. There are reasons she does what she does. In Snow White and the Huntsman we find that the evil step-mother has abuse in her past that’s helped make her into the evil she is. And in the television show Once Upon a Time, well, I don’t even know where to begin. There are more twists and turns in that one than all the roller coasters at Six Flags. And each twist points to the fact that there’s more to the characters than simply being evil or good. There are hurts and triumphs in their lives. There are losses and mistreatments.
Due to these retellings, familiar characters have taken on new depths. You may not agree with the evil they do, but you can sympathize with the hurts in the villains’ pasts. You may cheer on the heroes, but you can still get frustrated with them as they act less than heroically in sticky situations. What were once flat characters, good is good and bad is bad, are now characters we can more closely relate to. And they don’t stay the same throughout the story like the original fairy tale characters. They grow and learn. They recognize their character flaws and work to minimize them. They develop.
Character development is a vital part of any good story. Just like real life, the things our characters face should push them to change. Sometimes the change is negative. Sometimes losses cut so deeply we begin to react out of pain. But that same pain in someone else can drive them to be a more caring and empathetic individual. There are even going to be times when your character goes one direction for a while before something nudges them into doing an about face. It depends on your character and your story.
Take time to find out who your character is. An introvert reacts differently than an extrovert to the same situation. They have unique ways of looking at it. Their paths of growth will be one of a kind, created especially for them. Personality, past experience, race, gender, economic status, and geography all play a part in determining who your character is. Get to know them. Knowing what has shaped and what motivates your character will help you know how to develop them through their circumstances. It will allow you to take your characters from predictable and one-sided to realistic and intriguing.
We want to see why the villain became the villain when we read. We like to see that the hero has faults and is working through them. But how often do we take the time to do the same in real life? We should be constantly developing our character. It happens naturally when we interact with our world. Hopefully, we strive to develop it in godly ways. Scripture is full of reminders that we aren’t there yet, but we should be developing the attitudes that Jesus portrayed for us in His life and ministry.
At the same time, we need to recognize others are going through the same process. Instead of putting that preacher or teacher on a pedestal, we need to realize even our spiritual heroes have failures and faults. We shouldn’t idolize anyone, even our mentors. We all make mistakes, and we need to be able to be honest about them both in our own lives and in the lives of those we love.
And the villains in our lives? We need to exhibit patience, love, and the rest of the fruits of the Spirit in our dealings with them. More than likely, they didn’t set out to be the villain in our story. No, you may not ever be besties, but you can find a lot of freedom in forgiveness. And understanding the whys sometimes makes offering that forgiveness a little easier. Take a moment to consider some of the things that made their character develop in the direction it did. Let that understanding help free you to react to them in a godly way.
Let’s put away our fairy tale definitions of the people in our lives and start taking the time to see the character development happening each day.
By the Book: Do you tend to see people in your life as only good or bad? Do you try to look beyond to the whys? Are you ever guilty of defining yourself by fairy tale definitions? Why is it important to understand you are not a one-dimensional character?