Remember that scene in Disney’s Aladdin (1992) where evil vizier Jafar was told to look for a “diamond in the rough”? Okay, maybe you don’t think about these things as often as I do, so just nod your head, even if you don’t remember that scene. Anyway, this diamond in the rough—Aladdin—was the key to Jafar’s nefarious scheme to retrieve Genie’s lamp in the Cave of Wonders.
But those of us watching the movie realized early on that Aladdin, the street rat, was a diamond in the rough. Sure, the narrator told us. But we would have figured that out eventually, and not just because Aladdin himself sang about there being “so much more to me,” and had great hair and surprisingly sparkling teeth for someone living on the street.
The cost of cutting and polishing a diamond adds only a tiny fraction to its price. Even if the diamond goes on to become polished, its polished price is still determined by what it was worth in its original, natural rough form.
I find this company fascinating because for them a diamond’s most important quality is its character. If you check out their website, you’ll see the traits that make up a diamond’s character (color, carat, clarity, and shape). If a diamond hadn’t already received full marks in character, they wouldn’t sell it.
The aspect of a character’s being a “diamond in the rough”—someone worth writing a whole book about—became clear to me, starting in my first semester at VCFA. My advisor told me to write a short story using a character from the novel I was failing miserably to revise. Before I entered the program, I had written and revised the novel, and even sent it around to agents. After multiple rejections, I entered the MFA program and set out to discover how to rework the novel. I decided to start over with it. But every word I wrote felt forced. After three months, my advisor suggested that I take time away from the novel and relax. And relaxing still meant writing—this time a short story.
I chose a character, an elf, a tertiary character with little life beyond the one chapter in which he appeared. He was like a movie extra whose job was to walk through a scene. Well, 45 pages later (for me, that’s a short story), after I became better acquainted with him, I realized I had a diamond in the rough, a character I could polish and allow to sparkle in his own novel.
The same thing happened in my fourth (and last) semester. Consequently, my current work in progress stars yet another character mined from the same novel I had written and tried to rewrite that first semester (and second and third). This character at least had a speaking role in that novel, but little presence beyond a few scenes. Unlike the novel I couldn’t successfully rework over three semesters, the first book of her journey is complete. (Still working on the elf’s book.)
But in my current book, another diamond in the rough showed hidden facets I didn’t see at first, but my advisor and other classmates saw. While this character would have been condemned to just a walk-on role, he is now the companion on the journey my main character takes and has become the main character in the second book of my duology.
These experiences showed me that sometimes something has to die in order for new life to begin. I’m not just saying that because Easter just passed. I’m saying that because an entire novel—hundreds of pages, years of work—had to die in order for these “diamonds in the rough” to live—characters whose stories would never have been told. Did it hurt to bury that novel? Yep. But these characters needed to be pulled out of my overpopulated novel and allowed to roam about the open land, living their own lives like . . . uh . . . free range chickens. (I’ve been dying to mention chickens for weeks. Glad I got that in.)
Got a diamond in the rough? How did you discover this character? How will you polish him or her?
The lyrics of Aladdin’s song, “One Jump Ahead,” were written by Howard Ashman; music by Alan Menken.