Retold by Nicholas T. Proferes in Film Directing Fundamentals.
A frog was sitting by a river swollen by a recent flood, when a scorpion came up to him. “Mr. Frog, the river is much too wide for me to cross. Could you please take me across on your back?”
“Oh, no,” replied the frog, “when we get to the middle of the river, you will kill me with your sting.”
“Why would I do that?” asked the scorpion. “If I killed you, you would sink to the bottom and I would drown.”
The frog had not thought of that scenario, but it made perfectly good sense. “Okay,” said the frog, “hop on.”
“Thank you so much, Mr. Frog,” said the scorpion as he hopped on the frog’s back.
The frog was a strong swimmer, and in no time at all they reached the middle of the river, but still much too far for the scorpion to walk to the other side. Nevertheless, the scorpion stung the frog with his stinger. As the frog began to die from the poison, and the scorpion began to drown because he had lost his ride, the frog asked incredulously, “Why? Why did you sting me?”
The scorpion replied, “It’s my character.”
My personal takeaway from this fable is a practical one for writing. Character is the collection of features and traits that form the individual nature of a person. This means the good, bad and ugly. I find it easy to write lovely characters doing aspiring things. But I need to have the courage to write characters who make scorpion-esque decisions that seem horrible to me, but are true to them because it’s their deep-seated character.
Photo (Flickr CC) by Kevin O’Mara