As storytellers we often rely on readers being familiar with archetypes—the wise elder, the innocent youth, the seductress, the fool, the orphaned children, the brave warrior, the idealistic leader, and many more….
Upending those well known figures can open up new venues for fiction. I just read an astounding novel by Ruth Rendell entitled “The Tree of Hands.” I missed it when it came out in the 1980s and I’m glad I impulsively purchased it for my Kindle right before I left on my trip. I was so agitated by the wild ride that sometimes I had to take breaks from the narrative and read the NEWS for relief. When the Washington Post and New York Times are restful by comparison, you’ve got to know that this was an extraordinary story.
Each of the characters reveal themselves in their bad choices, mistaken assumptions, and, to their greatest peril, the natural, and very human, habit of painting pictures of the life they want in lieu of living the one they have. It’s a tumult of good, and not so good people, making bad and very bad choices that lead to crime, death, and more. Most, ultimately suffer the consequences, but not all of them.
I have to commend the late mystery author on her extraordinary ability to start with characters that seem clichéd, even stereotyped, keep them on a track that is coherent and yet defy stereotypes at every turn.
This cast of characters will haunt me for a long time and I’ll endeavor to find my own way to create original characters.