I’m sure you’re familiar with the fable where an ugly duckling is rejected by the farmyard geese, only to emerge as a graceful and beautiful swan at the end of the winter. From this fable has sprung one of the most enduring character archetypes used in both movies and novels alike. Whether labeled a misfit, a nerd, a wallflower or a dork, these characters have been forced into situations where they are unable to tap into their full potential. The end result is a rather sad and lonely existence.
A terrific example of the ugly duckling archetype is the “Joan Wilder” character in the wonderful romp of a movie Romancing The Stone. Joan begins the movie as a nerdy, timid writer, whose restrained hair reflects the tight rein she keeps on all of her passions.
By the end of Joan Wilder’s adventure with the unscrupulous, but sexy Jack T. Colton she has emerged as an unfettered, beautiful and confident woman, ready to take on the world.
There are plenty of other examples of the ugly duckling character. In The Charm School by Susan Wiggs, the main character, Isadora Peabody, is an awkward misfit from an accomplished Boston family. There’s also Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, Harriet from Harriet the Spy, Vivian from Pretty Woman, and maybe the most famous misfit of all...Harry Porter.
I’ve written over fifty novels and never yet tackled the ugly duckling archetype, but for some reason I’m being drawn to it this spring as I contemplate plotting my next novel. I have in mind a young woman who has been looking after her sickly parents since she was eighteen years. As a consequence of never being able to focus on what she wants in life, she’s become rather...dowdy. She’s only twenty-five, yet feels as if life is passing her by. And it is.
Through the course of my novel, this young woman will learn how to engage with the world again. She’ll figure out who she is and what she cares about. And yes, her transformation will include a new hair style and some updated clothes. But the improvements that really matter will be the interior ones.
I’m hoping this will be a story that my readers will engage with. But I suppose only time will tell! If you want to keep updated on the progress of this and my other writing endeavers, please sign up for my newsletter. While you’re visiting my website make sure you enter my Grab-bag contest. I’m giving away a great custom totebag and a stack of ten autographed books.