21st Century Brontë #6

Character Growth

Whenever I used to talk about my writing to anyone, there’s a single name I always eagerly mentioned.

Her wild dark hair with crimson highlights, pale complexion, and bright, amber eyes have followed me in The Sims, World of Warcraft, Soul Calibur, and so many other character creation modes.

In video games, she was my avatar. In fiction, she stood for so much more.

Ellie Elibine watercolor

Ellie Elibine was supposed to be my heroine of my Young Adult Fantasy novel series when I went to the University of Central Florida to study writing.

Except now I have that degree to prove I studied, but no novel to show for it.

In the first year I incorporated Ellie into several writing assignments, spoke to any career major with a listening ear, and commissioned artists to draw her at every convention I went to. But by last year of college, I had stretched myself too thin between numerous obligations that at the time seemed critical to my success. The novel series that I was so determined to write was diminished to an afterthought, between five minutes between my head hitting the pillow and a deep, dreamless sleep. I felt like the Winter Soldier, yanked out of cryogenic stasis to complete whatever tasks were expected of me, before shutting down again.

Not saying that I didn’t enjoy my undergraduate experience. But only recently have I learned to be alright with hording my time. Writing, whether I was passionate about it or not, required work. So often I hear the saying, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life,” but this seriously needs to be amended. Very rarely do my thoughts flow into well-orchestrated sentences, but because I love writing is why I choose to work every damn day of my life.

If my writing could be considered taking Ellie on dates, she was stood up. A lot. I simply felt like I was wasn’t good enough for writing to not feel like work, so I busied myself with more immediate gratifications like organizing club meetings and coordinating plays.

When I graduated, my first thought was, “This is it! I can finally focus on writing again. I can finally develop the ideas that I had prior to college, involving Ellie, her family, friends, and the chaotic world that would become a novel series.”

But when I actually sat down to write, I for the life of me couldn’t expand on her character. I knew the basics: she loved bats and other unconventional creatures, she sang and swayed when she cooked, and she’s fiercely protective of her older brothers. I knew all these tidbits about her, but the process felt like slipping into a pair of old shoes that didn’t quite fit the same way.

It took me a while to realize that I had grown out of them.

Ellie Elibine Sketchbook

I used to get defensive when anyone told me that I was Ellie. It felt like the character was short-changed, her years of growth and development reduced to a glorified diary, and what was creative about that? So what if my middle name is Ellis? Ellie was her own person, random but endearing, over-emotional but loved regardless of whatever wrongs she committed, strong but weak enough to need saving on occasion. And she always knew how to accessorize to match her killer Gothic Lolita fashion. These were all concepts that I aspired to incorporate in my life: to stand out from the norm but still have value.

Fast forward one undergraduate degree later. Throughout many experiences I’ve matured into a person who doesn’t depend on the acceptance of others, except to those who matter to me. I’m still weird but not over-the-top since the theatrics of adolescence has passed.

Ellie is a fossilization of that adolescence. Her voice doesn’t come as naturally anymore because she embodies an individual who grappled with a torrent of undefinable emotions, insecurities, and eccentricities: my attempt to rationalize my uniqueness through her. Yes, she was more of an extension of myself than I realized at the time, but I’ve learned that that isn’t a bad thing.

There’s a term for a character that inexperienced writers create to be their ideal of perfection. And considering that I was inexperienced in 8th grade, it is possible that Ellie may have fallen into the trope. In the fanfiction realm, the specific name for this character is Mary-Sue (or Gary-Stu if you’re a dude).

They excel at any task required of them in that particular universe, despite needing constant rescuing. They are indescribably beautiful, but the author will still attempt to gush about their “iridescent eyes” or “cascading locks”. Their flaws are more endearing than complex, such as clumsiness or cute sneezes. And the writer will usually warp the personalities of the characters canon to the show, because they’re just that damn enamored by this gift from the heavens. But the writer doesn’t err intentionally; their lack of experience hampers their ability to analyze the canon characters, instead focusing on the relationship between them and the Sue.

Yes, these characters are obnoxious and infuriating to read. I hope Ellie’s creation wasn’t born from such fictional sin, but I keep those initial stories buried just in case. Yet I don’t regret holding onto those files either; as terrible as they are, these stories still need to be written. How can a writer improve if they don’t create their own piles of shit that they’ll deny having created later on? Without these starting points I would’ve never seen my progression as a writer, cementing that I have improved with practice and stubborn drive.

And the initial plunge into character creation shows just how open our imagination are. This character progresses from an extension of ourselves, into an individual with their own personality and thought-processes, helping us move away from the self and into the thoughts of another mind.

Knowing that Ellie could use her own characterization states how much I’ve grown as a writer and a person. But I’m not going to dump a character that I’ve invested so much energy into, either. If anything, her testament to who I wanted to be, tempered by the person I now am, will keep her compelling. To me she has a great start to a coming of age narrative since she never had the chance to grow up with me.

She, like writing, like me, are all works in progress.

Ellie Elibine Avatar

So since graduating, I’ve sat down with her and the many other characters that I plan to write about in the future at any chance I get. It’s a slow but rewarding process, like reacquainting yourself with an old friend who’s eager to share their recent experiences.

She’s excited to finally step forward in time.

_______

21st Cen Bronté

Brontë Bettencourt (Episode 34) graduated from the University of Central Florida with a Bachelors in English Creative Writing. When she’s not writing or working, she is a full time Dungeon Master and Youtube connoisseur.

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