Causes: Poor parental modelling or an unstructured environment growing up (clutter, lack of planning, hoarding tendencies, etc); living moment to moment without a sense of schedule; irresponsibility; being unable to prioritize; contempt for rules and structure; laziness; interests that shift with great frequency; suffering an emotional blow or loss that is difficult to overcome; mental instability
Characters in Literature & Film: The 7 Dwarves (Snow White); Charlie (the Perks of Being a Wallflower); Clark Griswold (National Lampoon Vacation)
Positives: Disorganized characters find joy in small pleasures and simple interests. They are not as concerned with the big picture as they are with what's happening right now. They enjoy the moment, and don't take themselves or the world too seriously. The Disorganized character doesn't stress about keeping up appearances or conforming to the expectations of others. They are experts in closing out negative thoughts and distracting themselves with other things. No matter what happens, they are able to let certain negatives go and refocus on what makes them content.
Negatives:The disorganized frequently suffer the negativity, judgement and exasperation of others when they fail to meet expectations. A lack of order forces them into tight situations when forgotten deadlines, lost materials or skipped appointments carry consequences. These characters often let those around them down, and make poor leaders. They often need help to remain on task and do not inspire confidence that important details will be seen to. Inevitably, something will fall through the cracks, inspiring lectures, disappointment and disapproval.
Writers, artists and other creative types; hoarders; the elderly; geniuses; the mentally ill; characters in slapstick comedy roles; red necks; messy teenagers
Cliches to Avoid:
The 'mad' scientist; the eclectic wizard, the harried mother/aunt/grandmother/teacher with too many kids to keep track of; using a disorganized antagonist or gang of thugs as a plot device so the hero may easily defeat them
Twists on the Traditional Disorganized:
- Disorganized protagonists are never portrayed at their bleakest, or they have positive traits which negate their irresponsibility, leading to an 'all is forgiven' scenario. Challenge yourself to write a character who is extremely disorganized and excels at consistently disappointing others. How will you balance such a character to still make them likable to the reader?
- This character type is used to disappointing others and then shrugging it off as, 'Sorry, but that's how I am. Forgive me?' What happens when someone they count on in turn lets them down in a huge way--an unforgivable way?
- Show us a character who views her own disorganization with contempt, and pair it with the drive to change. As initial failures mount, this will give the reader a view of ironic self-disappointment.