I thought when I graduated from high school that I would leave the “mean girls” behind but, sadly, my first roommate and suitemates were all members of that breed. I was a transfer student and they had planned to room together with another girl who had apparently decided to elope with some guy she met over the summer. So, we got stuck with one another. While it was fascinating to watch them up close and outside of the public eye – mean girls are sort of like sharks in blood saturated water, they are as likely to take a bite out of each other as their prey – I was sure that once I entered the working world they would be elsewhere. Alas, after more than 25 years in the workforce, I have come to accept that the stereotypical “mean girl” is as much a part of life as taxes and dying.
As a child and teenager, I was always puzzled by “mean girl” behavior and admittedly, at times, deeply hurt by their barbed comments or actions. As a young adult, I learned how to ignore them or at least pretend to be ignoring them. As a seasoned adult, (translation – over 40) I am more amused by them than anything else. The only thing that has changed is the tracks of time on our faces and the fact that we all need to start thinking about covering those pesky grey hairs. The faces change but the games remain the same.
Normally I avoid them, but I’m getting quite chummy with a mean girl these days.
Her name is Candee. She’s a character in my current work in progress and I’m having a lot of fun with her. Candee started out as just a minor character, but she is taking more and more of the center stage and, though I fully intend to kill her off in a particularly fitting manner, she is helping me work through a difficult scene that was holding up the completion of my book. In developing her character, I’m revisiting memories of every mean girl I’ve run up against in my life. It’s been an interesting trip down memory lane. I’ve also realized that either there are a lot of “mean girls” in the world or I am a magnet for their attention.
The motivation of the stereotype has, in my opinion, been hashed out enough. Some say the behavior is a manifestation of poor self esteem, herd mentality, a need to control everyone and everything, bad breeding/manners, really bad PMS, or just a general snarkiness in the personality. I’ve even heard it attributed to eating disorders and low blood sugar. (That one I can buy, when I’m hungry or my blood sugar is tanking, I can be pretty mean too.) Regardless of the cause, the end result is the same – somebody gets their figurative hair pulled and spat at.
In my story, the “mean girl” is the perfect foil. She’s the one who can be just despicable enough in her dealings with others that next to her, my anti-heroine seems reasonable and relatable, yet she isn’t really even evil nor does she distract from my villain. She’s just really mean. Candee is something of a demi-villain if you will. At the same time, she has something that does draw people to her and allows her to get close enough to draw blood – in this case literally and figuratively. She’s no “bad girl with a heart of gold” – in fact, I’m not entirely sure she even has one and I’m pretty sure her victims would agree with me.
In general, I tend to build my characters on traits or characteristics that can’t be attributable to one particular person. Under the “write what you know” school of thought, I suppose it could be said that there are usually traces of people I care about in my main characters or hero/heroines but not so much with my villains. Up to now that is. Candee seems to be taking on many of the physical traits of one particular person from my past. It was a bit of a shock to realize that on some levels, I see this person as a “mean girl” because I hadn’t thought of her that way; a bit unkind or careless in how she expressed herself, but otherwise fairly harmless. As I read back over what I have written, I am seeing her in a whole new light. I do wonder if it’s time for me to buy that shirt that cautions others to be nice or they might wind up in my next novel. Or perhaps I need to hire a good attorney.
So, how often do you use or realized you have used a real person from your life as the basis for a character? And, how far can you go without risking a lawsuit?
Mairead Walpole is the pen name for a somewhat introverted project and
contract manager who has 20+ years of business and technical writing under her
belt. In her spare time, Mairead writes paranormal romance among other genres.
Her first novel, “A Love Out of Time” is available through Second Wind