Justice (Deck of Lies, #1)

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Hope's Rebellion

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What is a Manic Pixie Dream Girl?

She's free spirited. She's smart and interesting. She's damaged, but you can fix her.erent. She's the manic pixie dream girl...and she's in stories all the time.

Is the manic pixie dream girl anything like a real person? Should you be making an effort to erase her from your stories?

Holly Golightly

Kate Hudson's Penny Lane in "Almost Famous," Kate Winslet in "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind," Helena Bonham Carter in "Fight Club." They're all sexy, they all have a dark side and they're all fearless when it comes to being themselves. These are classic manic pixie dream girls but if you want a true prototype of this common character trope, look to Audrey Hepburn.

Hollywood goddess Audrey Hepburn arguably played a manic pixie dream girl in nearly every movie she appeared in and perhaps even originated this story trope on screen. No one quite captures the ceaseless drive to be happy that continues to fail due to the character's own dark undertones quite like Hepburn.

The character that embodies this trope the best is undoubtedly Holly Golightly, who fought endlessly to be herself, even when she had no idea who that self really was. She was driven toward finding happiness with a desperation that seamlessly transitioned between hopefulness and hopelessness in the blink of an eye, always at odds with the darker shades of her own mind and the cruel, cruel world surrounding her.

 Supporting Act

The problem with the trope is this: since Hepburn's Holly Golightly first appeared onscreen in "Breakfast at Tiffany's" (and first, in Truman Capote's book of the same name), few stories have managed to give this character any real character.

She often breezes into the life of the male protagonist the story is actually about, spreading her wings and sprinkling little bon mots in his ears, shaking up his complacent world to become an ideal, a concept of what life could be if only he was as wild and free and unguarded as this fascinating creature.

And that…is usually as far as it goes. The manic pixie dream girl more often than not is a fantasy ideal who rarely gets to have much of a backstory unless it somehow endears her even more the the male who is falling in love not with her, but with the lifestyle she represents.

She appears as a two-dimensional sketch of a human being who is only there to break the guy out of his shell. Will he win her heart? With her, it doesn't matter. She can snatch the prize away as easily as it is won…and so the romantic dance continues. The source of her darkness is rarely explored and the reality of who she is remains a mystery. The mystery is a huge part of her appeal, so why spoil it by making her a real person?

Fixing the Trope

In good writing, in good stories, there shouldn't be any two-dimensional characters. The manic pixie dream girl can start out as this mysterious and free loving entity…but she can't stay that way. Every real person has hopes and dreams, past traumas, motivations and desires, painful memories. Every character has these things, too. Or at least, they should.

Some people resemble specific character tropes…at first. But everyone is more complex than their surface. The way to beat any trope is to reveal what's behind the character's mask. The audience sees Holly's mask slip and this is why she feels real. Show what lies behind the surface of your tropes and your characters will feel real, too.

 Write What You Know?

When you tell people you are a writer, or that you want to be, you will invariably hear a piece of advice that all non-writers love to share: write what you know. 

So, what does that mean and are you doing it?

What Do You Know?

Though this little bit of advice is well-intentioned, hearing that you should write what you know is extremely discouraging.

What if you want to write about a fantasy world that exists far from planet Earth, or dive into a time that is long, long past? What if you have never worn a corset or held a sword or gone into battle behind the yoke of a starship flying across the galaxy? Does every story you write have to be set yesterday in a suburb or a city that millions of people already know? What if your character wants to eat truffles…and you've never tasted one?

Write what you know is a pretty impossible thing, when you really think about it.

But there's good news. This trite and usually unwanted phrase, "write what you know," does not mean what many people think it means. 

What Should You Write?

First, don't ever let anyone tell you what to write. While feedback is nice and most people genuinely want to help, ignore them. Every writer has to find their own voice and their own story to write. No one can really help you with that.

Second, you know what it is to be a human. You've had a crush, fallen in love, experienced heartbreak. Even if you've never had a passion-fueled affair or drove to Vegas in a convertible, you've loved TV or movie characters. You've experienced the grief of loss. You did and didn't get your way. Maybe you loved and adored a movie icon. Maybe you cried when a favorite character died.

These feelings are universal to the human experience, whether you're falling in love with someone on a screen from the safety of your couch or you're hurtling across a desert landscape in a Bronze Age chariot.

You still know love. You know grief. You know joy and pain. And for what you don't know, like how fast a chariot can move, there is research. Plenty of people have described the taste of truffles or the heat of a desert sun in painful detail.

The thing that makes stories great is not how many explosions there are, how many fantastical creatures you can shove into it, how often the main character performs a spell. It's in the human experience that the story tells.

And you definitely have experience with being a human. You know what it is to be human. So all you really need to do is write human characters. Wherever they go, whatever they eat, whoever they love, infuse them with what you know about being a human. Give them flaws. Watch them fall down. See how they overcome these struggles, how they find love, how they manage hate. Whether that story takes place in the suburbs or on an alien planet, that is a story people will like reading.