Everyone is singing the new Cinderella movie’s praises, and rightly so: both Cinderella and her Prince were role models of courageous and kind character. It was the kind of story that inspires hope.
Still, because I’m a storyteller by nature, I wonder … is that really how things would have gone down?
What if Cinderella hadn’t known her mother long enough to be strengthened by her memory?
What if working as a servant in the house that she had every claim on as a daughter stirred up resentment, not only against those she was serving, but against her father, who brought these people into her life and then abandoned her?
What if, instead of staying, she had run away to get out from under her family’s collective thumb?
What if she’d needed a fairy godmother to transform her character after everything she’d been through, not just her physical appearance?
What if there was absolutely nothing in her or about her to attract a prince?
I know, I know. Cinderella is a fairytale, it’s not supposed to be realistic. And if Cinderella was anything at all like what I just described, she wouldn’t be the character we know and love. In fact, what I just described was what would have happened if it had been me in Cinderella’s shoes, because reality is, I’m flawed. We all are.
Now, of course, the story can’t end there, but I think in order to create relatable characters (and not just optimistic characters, however inspiring), it has to start there. I love a story where the protagonist’s character goes from rags-to-riches. Some great examples of this are Sparrow and Leah Hilarey Johnson’s Sovereign Ground and Heart of Petra, Bella in Sarah E. Boucher’s Becoming Beauty, and even Chad in R. J. Conte’s Angel Lover.
I try to include flawed characters in my own writing as well. Lilly tends to have a defeatist mentality when things aren’t going her way. Delilah – well, Delilah takes care of herself, and is pretty convinced she’s doing a good job. Hava is simultaneously self-righteous and hiding out in shame about her past.
I won’t spoil any of their endings for you, but I will say that if any character of mine changes for the better, it’s a hard-won victory.
And in spite of protagonists like Cinderella or Claire Trevelyan who display noble character no matter what their circumstances (and are loved for it!), I’d rather read flawed characters who change and grow within their stories any day.