Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 2

Do characters have to be quirky to be interesting? Bad to keep from being boring?

Donald Maass, in his book Writing the Breakout Novel says the character should be larger than life, and one characteristic of such is “a New York attitude.” He means a boldness, even brashness, that lets the character do and say things we wish we had the courage to do and say.

I struggled with this for a long time. I don’t like stories with smart-alecky kids who are telling their parents and teachers off. I don’t like the renegade cop who breaks all the rules to uphold the law. For a time, I thought maybe I would just have to disagree with Maass on that point.

Yet it’s hard to disagree with a man who has so much insight and experience with fiction.

I began to think of another key component Maass identifies:

Before we leave the subject of strength and sympathy, I would like to suggest that there are two character qualities that leave a deeper, more lasting and powerful impression of a character than any other. Forgiveness and self-sacrifice.

So is it possible, I wondered, to combine a New York attitude with forgiveness and self-sacrifice? Then it hit me. That’s essentially what Paul Hutchens did with Little Jim in that piece I quoted from the Sugar Creek Gang in yesterday’s post.

Not only did Little Jim say something out of the ordinary for a kid, it was grand because it called for forgiveness.

What I did NOT quote was what happened next. The younger boys watched from a hiding place in the bushes as Big Jim and Circus confronted the man they thought was raiding the traps. He ran, straight toward the young lurkers.

Well, there the four of us littlest guys were, without either Big Jim or Circus to help us, and the man or bully or whoever or whatever he was, was running in our direction waving his lantern in front of him to see his way and stumbling along like he was drunk, toward the fir tree behind which we were hiding.

Say, I guessed what he was going to try to do, though … He was making a dive for the mouth of the cave, which was just about fifty feet to the left of us, and in order to get to it he would have to pass the fir tree where we four littlest guys were.

I don’t know how I ever managed to think straight, but I must have ’cause I heard myself saying to the other guys with me, “Wait’ll he gets here and then all four of us dive in and tackle him football style.”

Boy oh boy, I certainly couldn’t think straight, but it seemed all of a sudden like with Big Jim gone, and also Circus, that I was the leader of our little gang, so I felt very brave, in spite of being scared, and was all set to be the first one to dive in and grab the man when he got up to where we were. But say, I didn’t even have a chance to be a hero—not the first one, anyway. We were all crouched there, waiting, when all of a sudden, when he got close enough, Little Jim shot out from beside me and shoved his stick right between the man’s flying legs, and boy oh boy! ker-whamety-squash-squash-flop, right down in front of us that guy fell in a tangled up sprawl.

So there was Little Jim, the one who spoke of forgiveness, putting himself at risk to implement an idea he came up with on his own. Little Jim as a character became more and more likeable. Maybe even larger than life.

Published in: on October 24, 2006 at 2:02 pm  Comments Off on Good Characters and Christian Fiction, Day 2  
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