Every author knows that the novels we like to read influence what we write. I got to contemplating my favorite books (and tv shows) today, and realized there is one character type in particular I have never put in any of my five novels.
This character is the Hagrid character from Harry Potter. The Jerry (actually Gary) Gergich character from “Parks and Recreation.”
If you’re unfamiliar with Hagrid and Jerry, let me explain the character type they represent.
I’m talking about the well-meaning bumbler who always screws things up, though he means well. He is more of a hindrance than a help, and even the people who love and respect him resent him to some degree when he “pulls a Jerry.”
How many times do Harry, Ron, and Hermione get so exasperated with Hagrid they could scream? How many times do they resent getting into trouble while trying to clean up his messes?
Why I Don’t Write The Bumbler
Harry Potter was one of my biggest influences as a writer (as I describe here), and excluding C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and some middle grade fantasy novels, the first fantasy I ever read.
Yet, when I started writing fantasy, I never created a Hagrid character. This wasn’t a conscious decision; the need for such a character never hit me. He wouldn’t have fit in my world.
Psychologically, I think I avoid writing a bumbler because all my characters are extensions of me in some way or another, and in real life, I am terrified of being the bumbler amongst my group of friends. Of being always wrong.
One of my flaws is caring a bit too much what others think about me. It’s something I need to work on, and I do work on it, day by day.
Still, I worry that I am the bumbler. I can definitely pinpoint some occasions where I’ve screwed things up Jerry-style. Who can’t?
On top of that, reading about bumblers isn’t my favorite thing to do. Sure, I love Hagrid. He’s brave and selfless, and he has a beautiful child’s heart. There are many aspects of his character that all of us could do to learn from and to imitate.
Still, he’s at the bottom of the list of characters I connect with or like in JK Rowling’s wizarding world. Some of the things he does are completely nonsensical, and an adult should not be depending on school kids to help him out of his jams. Hagrid frustrates me to no end.
Of course, I could write a bumbler without having that character, like Hagrid, depend on children to bail him out of trouble. I could write a Jerry Gergich-style bumbler. Half of what Jerry gets blamed for or called out for isn’t even his fault.
In fact, that’s one of the running gags of “Parks and Recreation.” (Jerry works for the Pawnee, Indiana Parks Department.)
- When Jerry creates a beautiful picture mosaic of all the citizens of Pawnee as an entry in a mural design contest, his colleagues laugh him down because he says “murinal” instead of “mural” as he presents his work.
- When Tom lets Li’l Sebastian, a famous miniature pony, out of its enclosure, he blames Jerry.
- At a meeting, when Jerry is the only one to offer suggestions to solve a problem because no one else cares, Leslie, who is running the meeting, shoots him down and ridicules him.
- Everyone ridicules Jerry’s art, even though he’s a wonderful painter and his landscapes are absolutely beautiful.
Jerry works as a bumbler in a different way than Hagrid. While they both have a pathos about them, Jerry’s is a comic, lighthearted pathos. Hagrid’s is heart-wrenching.
I understand, then, that there are multiple ways to write a bumbler. Many tactics you can use to personalize the character. Hagrid and Jerry both work nicely and fit nicely into the worlds they inhabit.
I just can’t bring myself to try to write a bumbler. And that’s okay: my stories don’t need them.
Well, I know character types in and of themselves are confining. They limit a deep character to one set of traits and one role to play. Still, we think in those terms, and such thinking can be helpful when trying to determine a character’s major role in a story arc before fleshing that character out so that he becomes much more than a caricature.
Is there a specific character type that you love or don’t like as much? How do you feel about bumblers? About knights in shining armor? Damsels in distress or warrior princesses? The lady’s man (like Sam Malone from “Cheers” or Joey Tribbiani from “Friends”)?
Is there one type of character you avoid putting into your stories?
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