I largely heard about this news story from my Facebook feed. Apparently, at least three secondary school girls participated in a cancer charity’s fundraising drive, called Hair for Hope — where people raise money and have their locks shorn off, like army recruits at Basic Military Training. The principal of their school ordered them to wear wigs, touching off an online firestorm.
Anyway, this story is more complicated than it looks on the surface — there are at least two sides to it, and enough bytes have been used commenting on them. Instead, I’ll focus on the writing lesson to draw:
We’re all the hero of our own story.
Jim Butcher, The Dresden Files: Turn Coat
Here be conflict. But while the principal is being painted as the villain of the piece, the fact remains that no character in a conflict does ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things simply because they’re nasty or evil. Rather, they each have aims that make perfect sense to them, and the conflict comes because those aims clash.
In schools, it can be sending a message versus obedience to school rules. In war, peace with honour versus pacification at any cost. In life, staying true to yourself versus gaining a temporary advantage.
So even if a character is clearly placed in your mind as a villain, be sure to give him or her a goal the audience can relate to, even if they don’t necessarily share that goal. You might disagree with the principal’s stance on bald heads in girls’ schools.
But strong audience understanding will raise the stakes, build jeopardy and make characters, good or bad, more three-dimensional and relatable — even if we don’t for a moment want them to win.