Some of my favorite stories revolve around two misfits bonding and finding a strange kind of love. I’m thinking of the movies Harold and Maude as well as, Hedgehog. And I’m thinking of Bonnie and Clyde or Huck Finn and Jim. And I’m thinking about outliers from my own stories, such as Mary and Nate which appears on this blog.
I’ve been thinking about our reactions to these characters as they endear to our hearts. For instance, in the normal scheme of things, would we even give a French concierge much consideration? Or what about the precocious 12-year-old, Paloma in the novel, The Elegance of the Hedgehog or the movie based on the novel, Hedgehog?
How do we as authors create memorable outlier characters? How do we get into their head space, and better yet, their hearts? Obviously, we must draw up characters who are free of the usual stereotypes and cliches. For instance, Renee, the concierge in Hedgehog, defies cliches. She possesses a droll sense of humor, she’s literary, and she has wonderful insights about the people that pepper her environment.
The characters Harold and Maude certainly defy cliches in that they’re both rebelling against conformity. They meet at a funeral and the age difference isn’t something to scoff about. Given the era in which this movie was released (1971), pairing a 20-year-old pre-Goth rich boy with an 80-year-old eccentric is going to raise some concerns.
Holly Golightly from Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s comes to mind too. On the outside, she’s a glamor girl attracting men in the 1960s Manhattan. But underneath her skin, she’s a lost and confused girl still running through briar patches in search of turkey eggs. She encounters a homosexual writer struggling to get his work known, and though these two do bond, this bond doesn’t last. And yet, readers enjoy the ride.
Why do oddballs intrigue us as readers? That’s the first question to ask when creating these types of characters. And then the authors who do create these characters are probably outliers themselves, as many artists tend to lean in that direction. We must create characters who are different or eccentric without seeming fake about it. Any author who can pull this off deserves accolades.
It helps to have a good understanding of humanity and a desire to rebel against what seems normal. Deep down, none of us are normal. Perhaps this is why we enjoy eccentric characters bucking the system. We wish we could live and speak like them, but we lack the courage.
We applaud when Harold rebels against his flighty mother and pairs off with an octagenarian. We cry when Renee, the concierge suffers from a tragedy. But we applaud that Paloma doesn’t go through with her intended suicide and decides that she has reasons to stay put on the earth–mainly her interactions with Renee and a Japanese neighbor.
And when we create these characters it benefits us to have the concept of soul mates in mind since that’s what these characters are for each other. Our job is to write scenarios for these characters that promote compassion in viewers and readers of our work. and the author who can pull this off is guaranteed success, at least on the artistic level.