Imagine that you’re twelve-years-old again.
You’re huddled beneath your covers at 9:00 p.m. (thirty minutes past your bedtime, you naughty child), with a flashlight in your hand, and a small breathing hole off to the side. In your lap sits a book that tells the tale of Johnny Braveheart, the fearless knight who fends off ogres, buys all the bread from the little girl in the market, and shoots off a few snarky (yet humble) remarks to the town jerk who’s giving a lady a hard time.
You’d give anything to be Johnny Braveheart, no matter if you’re a boy or girl, you just want to fight the bad guys and win the battle.
Now, as you grow older, you start reading more mature books. The characters are advanced in development, the plot is more complicated, and the themes have strayed from the simple good vs. evil.
Now you’re sitting in your room, perhaps reading on a Kindle, at 12:30 p.m. (two hours past your bedtime, you naughty child), with a cup of tea and a pile of pillows off to the side. In your lap sits a book that tells the tale of Eric Stone, the merciless assassin who constantly questions his morals every time he pulls a blade out of his opponent’s chest. By the end of the story, Eric Stone reforms his murderous ways, learns to care for the lady who helped him through it all, and…decides to kill people for “the good of all” from now on.
So what happened, guys? Did the fearless hero theme get worn out? Did everyone get bored with valor and nobility?
By now you are probably screeching from your eagle’s nest; “SAYS THE PERSON WHO SWOONS OVER JASON BOURNE AND IS WRITING A STORY ABOUT A GUY THAT GOES AROUND KILLING TERRORISTS!”
And you’d be right.
I have a thing for assassins just as much as the next girl (or guy).
I love stories with blood and gore and mercenaries.
But again, what happened to the heroes?
Where are the men and women of fiction that we, as young adults, can look up to?
And I’m not necessarily talking about characters like Johnny Braveheart who are essentially perfect and noble, who “fight the good fight” just because they’re nice potatoes with a great smile.
No, I mean the man who shows humility to his boss or king. The woman who will stand up for what’s right without having to be obnoxious and “tough”. The ones who show character in the little things?
We all had those characters we wanted to be when we were kids, but what role model do we have now as young adults or adults?
Because let’s be honest, the stories we read definitely shape us. They even put biblical characteristics into action sometimes.
Now, hold your beans. I’m not saying there aren’t any stories with good characters. The Lunar Chronicles series has AMAZING characters of morale. Every single book ever written has a person of heroic standing.
But let’s look deeper.
Who are they when they aren’t saving the world or confronted with their greatest fear? Do they show kindness even when it isn’t crucial to their character development?
And who are they when they mess up?
Like I said before, a good hero is not a perfect one. It isn’t Johnny Braveheart.
So how do they deal with a situation when they snap at their wife after a long day at work? Do they apologize afterwards? What about when they decide not to listen to a close friend? Or lie to someone?
And I think this is what we’re missing in a lot of fiction these days. For some reason there’s such a draw towards those “edgy” characters who don’t care who they hurt or what words they use.
Sure, they might come out better in the end by winning the war, but we miss out in seeing who they are in the little things. (*whispers* because they aren’t that good deep down…not yet, anyway).
Character development does not mean a bridge between utterly bad to kind of good.
Character development is simply growth and learning. Whenever we realize something about ourselves, we immediately become something a bit different than we were.
So why do good guys have to be stagnant? They don’t have to be boring!
The only reason they can be is because they aren’t executed properly (no, I don’t mean killed right, you violent writer).
Many writers liken “good” characters to a story’s “mentor”, AKA the all-knowing wise dude. Those are two completely different things entirely.
Okay, okay, so let’s say we have a good character.
Does that mean he/she can’t kill anyone?
NO, NO, NO.
Alrighty kids, let’s see. Captain America is a good guy, right? Valiant, noble, blah blah blah–he killed people. Lion-hearted men killed people in war…it happens.
And if that’s part of your character’s life, that’s okay! If they’re a soldier or on a secret mission or trying to stop a bar fight, there’s a place for killing.
But that shouldn’t distract from your character’s heart. It can add drama, doubt, interest, or whatever…but they should never be happy about it. As if it’s fun.
Killing isn’t fun and should never be (but that’s another post for another time ^_^)
To close, let me pose a question to you: Where do readers go to escape this dark world?
The books we write.
The worlds we build.
So let’s all try to make those places we create a comforting one. Let our books fill others with courage to face this scary world, because that’s why we write anyway: to show people that there’s a little Took inside us all.
Don’t lose that focus. We have enough bad people in the world and books show us that there is still hope.