Being Marked for Greatness

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A long time ago I was looking through several short story contests with a writers group. One of the contests involved writing a short story in which nothing unusual happened at all. The task was to take the main character and simply make them be a normal and average person with absolutely nothing strange or unique about them. No super powers, no life changing event, nothing. Just a perfectly normal and every day character.

After sitting around and thinking about it everyone pretty much agreed that it was impossible to write a story with reading that was like that. Every character is somehow marked for greatness or has unique and ridiculous circumstances befall them. The closest I think that any writer has ever come to succeeding at this challenge is Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. Now I will personally argue that the lack of anything ever happening makes the book suck, but besides that; it could still be argued that Holden does have very unique characteristics about him and is in fact normal.

So my question for the class is this. Do you think it can be done? As Foster says, our heros are often marked for greatness. Is it possible to construct a character that is just like everyone else and has nothing unique about him? Even in The Giver the main character, who should be identical to everyone else, finds uniqueness. Can it be written? And if it can, would it sell? Would it be successful?

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4 Comments

Aja Hannah said:

Inside people's heads of course there is uniqueness so the author would have to write it from third person. You can write a story like that, but someone will always find something further behind it.

Like in the Twilight books. The author has good ideas, but she is an immature writer. Yet people (even I) can still find depth in it. Visit April Minerd for examples.

Alicia Campbell said:

I'm not sure if it can be done, Carlos. In my blog, I claimed that no one wants to read a story about a "normal" character, but normal is relative. What is normal for me may be different than what is normal for you. And no two people and their circumstances are exactly alike, so i guess everyone is unique. So unique does not necessarily mean interesting. I suppose you could write a story featuring an average character, but I would think you would have to include some unusual event as the selling point. Unusual things can happen to average people. Ultimately, I think it can be written, but that it would be an author's suicide; in other words, I think it can be written, but would it be sucessful and sell? probably not. Maybe people would read it to see if it could be done, but it would probably not be a technique that would catch on and have staying power.
http://blogs.setonhill.edu/AliciaCampbell/2009/03/average_does_not_equal_interes.html

Andrew Adams said:

I think it would be possible to write a work about someone who is normal, but is thrown into ridiculous circumstances, the best example I can think of being The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, but it would be extremely difficult to write anything about a normal person doing absolutely normal things. What I described is a "fist out of water story", which have found a lot of success in the past. The character of Arthur in the aforementioned book is in no way marked for greatness. He is just an average person in an extraordinary situation. A book where nothing happens though? That would just be something that has little to no entertainment value, because people read to be entertained. I mean even the shot Seinfeld, which is literally supposed to be a show about nothing, is about normal people dealing with crazy circumstances. If someone wanted to see normal people doing normal things they would just go to real life. So I think it could be done, but then again a lot of things could be done and be useless, such as this.

http://failbox.files.wordpress.com/2008/01/untitled-2.jpg

So I would compare creating a story about a normal person doing normal activities about as useful as a DVD rewinder.

Julianne Banda said:

Carlos,

First, I have to disagree with what you said about Catcher in the Rye. It is one of my personal favorite books and to say nothing happens in it is completely wrong. But, it is your personal opinion.

Now, onto your questions. Someone can write a story where noting happens, but i highly doubt it would see anything. The task is impossible if someone wants to be successful with their writing. It would be interesting to read about an average person who lives an average life, but it would be boring. Even in real life we are faced with challenges everyday, sickness and death in families for example. We never know when it is going to happen, but it does happen to normal people everyday. To write a story where nothing tragic happens would be unrealistic and it must be just a fantasy world.

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