“Colon thought Carrot was simple. Carrot often struck people as simple. And he was.
Where people went wrong was thinking that simple meant the same thing as stupid.”
This is one of the classic quotes from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld. When we first meet Carrot, he comes across as too naïve to survive in a big city like Ankh Morpork. And yet, he not only survives, he thrives. This is because people tend to think that Pollyanna-like individuals are not in touch with reality. The Byronic hero with all his angst is assumed to understand the bleakness of human existence – and Captain Vimes was set up to be a Byronic Hero, but he was given the chance to rapidly grow out of the stereotype. Carrot’s character growth has been more subtle, because he was much more complex to begin with. He was – and still is – a very fast learner. He picks up languages and fits into other cultures with ease, and had the laws of Ankh Morpork memorised. His long-term relationship with the extremely intelligent Angua wouldn’t last a second if he was stupid. He is a simple man, but this is because he feels no need to reveal all his depths. He prefers to live in the moment and be happy.
Our society has a bad habit of liking ‘bad boys’. They appear to be more interesting than the good boys (hence my previous post on villains). Some people find it more romantic when an angst-tormented Byronic hero falls in love against his better judgement – I’m looking at you, Mr Darcy and Heathcliff. Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters have a lot to answer for.
Why is a happy and sunny personality automatically written off as dull and stupid? This shouldn’t be the case, as it is just buying into the stereotype. Everyone loves the Dalai Lama and no one thinks he is uninteresting, and yet he is one of the most engaging and happy people on the planet. Why can’t your hero be the same?
A person with passion and enthusiasm is generally a happy person. In the Steampunk genre, a scientist, engineer or mechanic that is successfully completing research and inventions should be an energetic and cheerful individual. Don’t fall into lazy writing, and assume that only the brooding person has deep feelings and thinks deeps thoughts. Remember, the sun sparkles on a lake might hide shallows or depths; it is up to you, the writer, to reveal them.