When you watch the Smurfs, you knew which character you were watching. Lazy was always falling asleep, his eyes half closed, yawning, dragging a pillow or knocked out somewhere, anywhere, catching some zzz's. You couldn't mistake Dreamy Smurf for Vanity Smurf, who was primping, looking in a mirror, spritzing on some fragrance, with that unmistakable flower in his hat. Or how about Papa Smurf, with his red hat, red pants and white beard? How did the writers let us know which Smurf was which out of ninety-nine Smurfs? It was a combination of things.
When reading a novel, readers should know who is speaking and who is in action. I know I personally hate to backtrack to see if I've missed something, because I don't recognize the character in the scene. When readers have to backtrack, it slows down the momentum of the story and the writer has just committed a writing sin. Never make them want to stop, and never, ever make a reader go backwards.
So here are a few writing lessons I've learned from the Smurfs.
1. Be authentic
Sleepy would never spend his day primping himself, he wouldn't have time to sleep. So when your character is doing something...anything, remember to keep them authentic to who they initially are. Don't change it up so drastically that the readers don't recognize the core of the character.
2. Be distinctive
Yeah, the Smurf village had 99 Smurfs which was favorable to a variation of storylines, but for the most part people generally only remember a handful of Smurfs. Why, because the few that most remember had distinctive traits that no other Smurf had. They each stood out.
3. Don't be ordinary
Do you remember ordinary people? I generally don't. Can't remember their names, faces or anything specific about them. Ordinary people can be boring. And most people read to escape the reality of ordinary life. I don't want to read about someone just like me. Maybe similar to me; for better or for worse, but not just like me. Not to say that every individual doesn't have something special or unique about them, but readers don't know that if you don't tell them.
4. Novels need secondary characters
I don't know how much fun it would've been to watch the Smurfs if Papa Smurf was the only character in the cartoon Saturday after Saturday. Papa Smurf was the leader of his village, but it's not so interesting watching a leader with no followers. Or take Smurfette, my favorite Smurf character. Oh how I loved her flirty ways, but it wouldn't be much fun to watch if she had know one to bat her lashes at.
5. Every story needs a villain
Stories are more interesting when they have at least one opposition. The Smurfs just wanted to live in their forest, happily eating all the smurfberries their hearts desired. But they couldn't be carefree because they had an opposition to their plan named Gargamel. He was not the brightest villain, but he had tenacity. I knew as a kid that every time Gargamel caught a Smurf, it would escape by the end of the show. But I also knew that next week, Gargamel was sure to make his best attempt at catching another one. Part of me disliked Gargamel, but a small part felt pity for him. He just couldn't catch a break; he had rotten teeth, his cottage was raggedy, he had to wear a tattered black dress every episode and he had a cat named Azrael who was just as clueless as he was at catching Smurfs. But the show was more interesting, memorable and distinctive because of him.
Did you learn anything from the Smurfs or another cartoon that helped you in your writing journey?