“Everyone is kneaded out of the same dough,
but not baked in the same oven.”
Aside from the notion of whether it is nature or nurture that shapes personality, and with it, destiny, there is something that every writer must struggle with and every reader must decide whether to accept or reject: how stereotypical can a character be before we call the narrative racist, or sexist, or simply poor and formulaic? There is nothing to make the character singular and thus fully fleshed out.
And the other side of the coin is really the same question, only read in reverse: how unusual can a character be before we exclaim that such person would never do this or say that? Would a twelve-year-old use proper archaic English they could have only glimpsed from Shakespeare? Would a four-year-old remember something that happened when they were two? Both are possible, but not typical, and many would say are unbelievable.
I ask, because I have read enough reviews, given reviews, or gotten feedback, and have seen both reactions. “Formulaic,” and “unbelievable.”
Classical musicians face similar balancing dilemmas when interpreting well-known pieces of music. A piece of music must sound different and new, thus it lives. But it can’t be so singular that the composer wouldn’t recognize it, and the listener would have their expectations smashed.
I like the Yiddish proverb above, because it reminds me of this delicate balance: similar, but not the same. Made of the basic stuff, but formed into a different shape.
A delicate, almost undefinable balance. A good visual is the tightrope walker. I think of her as I dialogue with my characters, and pray I don’t miss a step and fall off.
©Tightrope Walker by Seiltänzerin (1913)