|Put on a long fur coat and go for a walk with a spade: |
you never know what you might find (Barnum Brown found a T Rex)
|Raised by wolves? Good for you!|
It's a fine path we tread as writers to make our subjects extraordinary enough to generate excitement and ordinary enough for identification and empathy. It strikes me that fiction and non-fiction often approach this from different ends. When we write a story, we tend to start with an ordinary character and find in them the extraordinary. The boy who lives under the stairs, crushed by abusive relatives, is really an important figure in an unsuspected realm of the supernatural. The girl who takes her sister's place as tribute in an act of love and anger becomes a hero who, alone, can challenge despotic authority. The reader feels an affinity with the character through their ordinariness, or their put-upon-ness and is lifted, with the character, into the extraordinary. The extraordinary feels accessible and real because of the character whose hand we hold walking into the forest.
|Be a spy and a thorn in the side of authority; |
abolitionist Harriet Tubman
It is the ordinary in the extraordinary that makes these lives possible and livable. We approach great iconic figures through their extraordinariness, but we need those nuggets of ordinary to hang their humanity on, to make them one of us - and to make it possible for us to be one of them.
(Please excuse the bias towards science in the examples - I'm writing about 'flashpoints' in twentieth-century science at the moment, so these are the people camped out in my brain at the moment.)
aka Stroppy Author
A recent book with a nice cover:
Evolution, TickTock (Hachette, 2014)