Bitchy, complaining, peevish, whiney. All synonymous with the word querulous meaning to complain or be full of complaints. Does anyone know someone like this? I can think of so many characters in literature who are. It makes for a character of depth and complexity and when a reader reads, they look for that. It also provides so many opportunities for that other all important factor: conflict. Put a querulous character in a scene, and there is potential for all kinds of conflicts.

Let’s say Ben is our querulous character. He enters the office work area during a private conversation between our main character, Lacey and her friend, Nicole. What possible conflicts arise from this interaction? How might it be different if the character of Ben were not a “complainer”?

First, a peevish personality is self-absorbed. So, Ben will be oblivious that he has interrupted a private moment and immediately begin on his latest ‘complaint’ about the cost of the coffee in the coffee machine or the lack of flavors or whatever.
Second, once made aware that he’s intruded – which our strong protagonist will do – he will proceed to further ingratiate himself into what is NOT his business. Why? Because he has to. He needs more ammunition for the cannon of vitriol he plans to spill for as long as he lives on this planet.

When our ladies fire back refusing to allow him in, he has what he needs to proclaim his poor beleaguered existence. But wait. This means our character of Ben while an archetype is leaning toward stereotype here. Every move he makes is predictable, expected. How do we turn an archetype on its ear and catch the reader off guard? That’s the real challenge with strong archetypes like this one.

We need Ben to do the unexpected here. Perhaps, he enters complaining (as usual), but when Lacey turns on him, misty-eyed, instead of his normal reaction, he backs down? Perhaps, he appears stunned or hurt. Why would Ben a self-absorbed character who is oblivious to others suddenly be aware?

Now we have raised the stakes in terms of conflict. We want to know what’s going on with Ben. Why does a guy who never caves suddenly do so and in front of other characters? What would cause him express hurt and/or concern when typically he doesn’t care how people view him?

Take your most archetypical character and have them do something completely unexpected. See if it doesn’t give the scene and the character new life.

What’s your favorite archetypical character?



Filed under Writing

7 responses to “Querulous

  1. Question. When you talk about Ben backing down, wouldn’t you need to show him being “querulous” in other scenes first? Or how would the reader or the characters realize he’s different?

  2. dawnall

    Yes. You would have already established who he was before this scene. Then, the change is unexpected and the reason it makes the character break stereotype.

  3. I always like it when characters do something unexpected. It gives them extra layers.

    • dawnall

      I do, too. Steve James has an antagonist in one of his books, an assassin, who acts unexpectedly. It made the entire book for me.

  4. I’d like to say I like the Sage archetype (wise old man/woman) because of the value and insight they tend to bring to stories. But in reality I’m a Hero type of girl. I also like resourceful sidekicks, but I don’t know what archetype they are.

    • dawnall

      🙂 I think especially in YA the Sage or Mentor is a great archetype. I fall for the heroes also. Especially flawed ones. The Sidekick archetype is quite popular in literature and film. Used often to lighten a heavier hero, the sidekick is often comic relief. They are the yin to the hero’s yang.

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