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Writing: The Death of the Ingénue

by Ted Ryan 9 months ago in tv

What happens when your character loses their innocence?

Looking at the Doctor Who spinoff Class, April McClean is the definition of an Ingénue - The ingénue is a female character found in literature, film and theatre, generally a girl or a young woman who is endearingly innocent. In April's case, she's an all-round Hufflepuff: an overachiever, people pleaser, on every school committee and an eternal optimist within the friend group.

This would usually be her main function in the plot as the pure optimistic, which she is often ridiculed throughout the show - yet her backstory is anything but sunshine and rainbows. In Episode 3 (Nightvisiting), it is revealed that April's father deliberately drove the family off the motorway when she was eight, causing her mother to be paralysed and her father to be sent to prison for attempted murder. Already this shakes up the Ingénue archetype, because April losses her innocence at such a young age and had to be mature beyond her years in the aftermath of this event.

Despite this, April tries to maintain her ingénue - by being a consistent friend, caring for her mother while the pair maintain a mother-daughter relationship and always being nice. However, this proves to be harder when she becomes the co-owner of a heart with the show's antagonist. This unleashes the rage and hurt she's been suppressing for years, when the Shadow Kin's fury influences her own emotions.

Capturing your character's inner turmoil through their shift in moods and relationships as these feelings start to resurface. Unresolved childhood trauma, especially when it is triggered by memories or the abuser themselves, can cause your character to feel like they're reliving that trauma all over again. How he/she/they respond can vary depending on how you've established them as a person.

April completely steps out of the ingénue persona when confronted by her father and - under the influence of her connection to the Shadow Kin - her suppressed feelings about her loss of innocence and trauma come out in a rage. This is where we finally see April fully accept what she has lost and mourned it for the first time. In this scene, this is the first time April's parents have seen their daughter without her ingénue and the depth of her fury within the dialogue:

APRIL: You took everything from us.

HEW: I know I-I, I can never apologise enough.

APRIL: You should still be in prison.

JACKIE: April, please!

APRIL: You put her in that chair!

HEW: I know, but, love-

APRIL: Don't treat me like your daughter!

(She cuts his arm. He collapses onto the ground, bleeding.)

APRIL: You did teach me one thing, though, Dad. Stop moving! You made me strong because I had to be. You are not my father any more. You are not a part of this family.

HEW: All right, I deserve that. And I will go away, if you want me to. I'll never come back.

APRIL: It's too late for that.

Episode four (Co-owner of a Lonely Heart) sees the death of ingénue-April, ridding herself of the illusion of her innocence still intact. The death of innocence can usually be found within adolescent characters, raising the question - who are the now?

The literal or metaphorical death a character faces sees them undergo a transformation - either physical or emotional. April's death of innocence marks a future of uncertainty as she finds herself adopting a new identity. When approaching that transition yourself, it gives plenty of opportunity of what path your character goes down in the face of the unknown.


Ted Ryan


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