The 1918 Character Role Model
Hi, my name is Lisa and I’m hopelessly addicted to Too Good To Be True characters.
That would be, in my reading life. In my author life, I know that only international best-selling authors whose first novels hit the big time and are turned into mega-million-dollar movies can get away with stuff like that. Real writers must follow rules that say characters must stumble and get up again.
So, last spring I had a weekend looming with Not Much To Do. I happened to be at the library after my high-brow classic book club, which meets in the DVD section BTW, and saw that a couple of movies that had been getting a Lot of Attention were available for check out. I checked them out, being, an author who is, of course, ever on the hunt of Why Something Worked Really Well* for an author**, and why other Authors*** hate it (aka are Jealous****).
I totally groaned through the movies, then learned about borrowing books through the library for my eReader, so I (*) checked them out. And didn’t stop reading. I still haven’t, in case you’re interested, having discovered a way to cheat the system of having to return them, and not feeling one bit guilty, because…well…** can afford it, for *, and because I’m ****.
What * Learned.
People who indulge in their own and other’s pop reading habits leave snobbery to literary critics who think that only globally-shattering events are worthy of making Junior Lit’s immortal syllabus.
In other words, readers want Harry Potter, Edward Cullen, and Peeta Mellark. Characters who are challenged, focused, determined, and pure, having overcome an eensy little flaw. Someone I’d trust with my daughter.
The ** of Edward Cullen.
1918 wasn’t the quintessential year of glorified Americanism. It wasn’t even part of the Greatest Generation. It was an age of rising and comfortable middle class, growing affluence, and the coalescence of globalism that came out of the First World War. It was the first generation that began to grow away from the assumption that certain members of society needed to be protected, that honor and patriotism were more important than personal opinion, and that dignity was the natural order of civilization.
It was the year that Edward Masen died…and was created as Edward Cullen, a manchild newly loved unconditionally, but trapped forever between missing his mother and waiting a few more months to enlist in the army to fight in World War I. And here’s why the background of a character is so important. None of those facts are going to be part of the story, but they are essential to the makeup of the character; they are what guide his actions and reactions. Forward this manchild who’s grown in knowledge if not empathy for nearly a hundred years into a society of repellent mores, the opposite of what he believes right, and you have an admirable character struggling to maintain dignity and practice what he believes is right. It’s…attractive to readers. Being able to do right no matter the obstacle makes him too good to be true. But there’s enough multi-layered visionary conflict and travail to satisfy a leap off the page.
What about the others?
Harry Potter, a young boy growing to adulthood, was forced from infancy to constantly choose between dignity and despair. The Hunger Games just passed the Harry Potter series in sales. Peeta, the young man who is Katniss’s counterpart, is also a man of integrity and chose at a young age to risk personal safety to aid others in desperate straits.
By the time the Hunger Games came out, the *** had already gained acclaim for an earlier work. She didn’t suffer **** as did the other **s, who were debut authors with a formula.
The formula? Create a youthful, delicious, exceptionally well-mannered, perfected through trial character to root for, set up crazy odds but ensure victory, even if someone has to die and there’s blood. Oh, and it helps if there’s a rival for the girl.
Honestly, a story arc is never going to satisfy (sell) like the characters who ride it. It rarely matters where or when that goal-conflict-resolution business takes place as long as root-worthy 2G2BT characters rule.
For the record,
* like character-driven works to read. I will never understand the attraction of
***F Scott Fitzgerald or ***Irving Wallace, have read all of Bleak House in a week, think
***Anne McCaffrey could have taught me to knit and
will die believing that Dandelion Wine is the best American literary work of the 20th century.
* been married a lot longer than I haven’t—to the same guy—and raised two perfect sons who turned out way better than I will ever be.
No daughters. But if I had one, she could date Edward.
***My hero authors
****dying a fate worse than death