There's an old saying that "everything old is new again".
On his blog, Charles Gramlich wrote a posting about characterization, noting that Morrell argued it was harder to write stories around types than around three dimensional characters. Charles, of course, took the opposing point of view.
This made me stop and consider, which of course led me to a totally different topic: why should the two be mutually exclusive? Why can't one be the foundation for the other?I would argue that types are actually a great foundation or starting point for development of a memorable three dimensional character.
As some people may have seen, I enjoy taking something old and rethinking it. I have written and posted on this blog retellings of The Frog Prince and King O The Cats, both timeworn fairy tales. Why not? Why not take a stereotypic or one-dimensional figure, such as Robert Howard's Conan and use the character as the jumping off point for something new. Why not reinvent the character?
Some will argue that to do so is to steal someone else's ideas. I don't agree. Recently I was watching Showtime's "ROME" and thought: What if I retold the story of Julius Caesar by making him a corporate figure who has just succeeded in clawing his way to success over the body of Pompey. Why not reinvent Brutus as a hungry vice president, formerly loyal to Pompey, perhaps even related to the fallen CEO through marriage?
Borrowing characters and reinventing them is done all the time. Look at "Jaws" by Robert Benchley. The great white shark and Peter Quint are a reinvention of Moby Dick and Ahab. And I hate to pull this motheaten example from the high school curriculum, but how many of you had to sit through "West Side Story" as a retelling of "Romeo and Juliet"? What about "Apocalypse Now", Coppola's masterpiece of Vietnam? It's a brilliant reinvention of Joseph Conrads' "Heart of Darkness". Give me a few more minutes and I could come up with at least a dozen more examples.
There are only so many stories that can be told by a writer. One should find inspiration where they can? I know Charles was thinking of something entirely different when he wrote his posting, but one thought leads to another and to another and here I am. I completely agree that three dimensional characters are the stuff of classics, but the type, or the archtype, has a place. And at the heart of all three dimensional characters, peel away enough flesh and bone and you'll find the type anyway.