Saturday, July 24, 2010

Learning Life’s Lessons through Characters

What do all (at least most) stories need to have to be ‘good’?

Well, one answer could be conflict. Our stories need conflict because that’s how our characters show who they really are, and that’s how our story moves towards its ending. Unlike life, where conflicts never completely seize to exist, the conflicts in our stories need a strong enough sense of resolution that we can call it ‘the end’. Is this not one major reason why we enjoy stories so much – that we can experience a sense of resolution that is usually beyond our reach in real life?

What characters are the ones we love the best? Are they the ones that we feel did the right thing when others would not? Are they the ones that are the most ‘like us’ or the ‘us’ we want to be? Are they the ones who remind of someone we love?

Obviously, we all have different favorite characters, but we each see something in that character that is meaningful to us. The characters I really loved, like Atticus Finch, Frodo Baggins, and Harry Potter – to name a few – represented much more to me than simple fiction characters; sometime in the course of reading their story, we (the character and I) became intertwined with each other:

Frodo’s daunting struggle to destroy the One Ring grew into my desire to see it destroyed; Harry Potter’s terrorizing struggle to defeat Lord Voldamort grew into my desire to see him defeated; Atticus Finch’s struggle to stand up for social justice grew into my desire to see it prevail.

Story characters can become role models, teachers, and companions for us; they can go places, do things, and face things that perhaps we’d be too afraid to do ourselves, and they can share that wisdom with us through their story. Through facing tough challenges, making difficult decisions, or learning how to stand for something, these characters represent important elements of the human struggle. By eavesdropping on their challenges, these characters can show us how to better face our own. Life’s lessons, though in large part can only be learned through experience, can also be understood in part through others experiences.

The songs of life sing just as true in fiction as they do in life for you.


  1. Great post! I love when a character is so well written that he/she affects you so deeply, and we're able to relate. We need to see them succeed, feel it when they fail - they become like our best friends.

  2. Good Point. We live through our characters. Hey Jason, thank you for following my blog!

  3. Reading your post reminded me of a rule that I have. A hero is only as great as the villain he defeats. Conflict is key. My favorite characters are the ones that are the most tortured.