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Leonard’s mom and your writing

June 6, 2013

Christine Baranski is a talented actress, judging from her body of work. When your body of work has a four-decade long entry in IMDB, you’re doing something right. She’s currently starring on The Good Wife, where she’s done 90 episodes of work. And yet, for me, she’s always going to be Leonard Hoffstadter’s mom on The Big Bang Theory.

If you don’t watch the show, Leonard and his roommate Sheldon are the kids who always got beaten up in middle school, then geeked their way through college and graduate school to high-paying gigs in academia or the private sector. Baranski’s character, Beverly, is an emotionless science geek whose relationship with her son is as distant and cold as Neptune. She’s quite funny in the role and the way she appears in underlines the character.

So my wife has started watching The Good Wife on Netflix and it was on as I passed through the living room the other day. In it, Baranski was doing her day job, playing litigator Diane Lockhart.

Except she wasn’t Diane Lockhart to me. She was Leonard’s mom. And she may always be Leonard’s mom.

It’s known as typecasting (duh!) and it’s why no one from the original Star Trek will ever be more than Mr. Spock (for instance), playing a different role.

The same can happen to your writing. If you have a certain style or genre, it can be difficult to break out. Some authors never do. In fact, some authors use pen names to write outside genre just for that reason.

My writing has kind of fallen into that pattern. Typically, it’s first-person and kind of sparse, with a comically cynical voice. Sure, that’s been done to death, but I’d like to think I can bring it off with just enough originality to be worthwhile.

But that’s the beauty of short stories. You can try new things out. For instance, I’ve written short stories in third-person from both the male and female point of view. I’ve written less cynical work and played with changing my voice. I’ve tried different themes.

If I’m working on the big work-in-progress and things aren’t going well, sometimes a try at a short story can change things up enough to get the juices flowing and help me not to become what Christine Baranski is to me.

It helps me not to be Leonard’s mom.

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