My last post was less about writing than it was about living will. However, the more I read (both fiction and non-fiction), the more I am convinced that the two are profoundly connected. First, for those who are familiar with this thought, let me say that I do not subscribe strictly to narrative ethical thought. While I do think that fiction can and should have a powerful formative effect upon character, I do not believe that a narrative approach to moral thinking is, in itself, either necessary or sufficient. Stories are important, impactful, and helpful in the formation of character, but they are only one tool that may be used in the process of personal or community moral development. They are not essential to character, nor are they capable for forming a persons character in and of themselves. That being said, there are many novels that have had a profound impact on my own personal development such as Lars Walker’s Year of the Warrior, J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Frank Herbert’s Dune, Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land, and Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment among others. Some of these have affected me positively (i.e. shown me, led me to consider, etc traits, ideas, and qualities that I wanted to develop), others negatively (i.e. shown me ideas, traits, qualities etc that I wanted to avoid), and others have merely stimulated deeper and more thorough examination of my own beliefs, preconceptions, opinions, and beliefs. I say all of this to make a particular point, one that I have mentioned before: as authors our writing can have a significant affect on our readers.
Some works are specifically intended to have a positive effect, presenting qualities and characters to be emulated or scenes that inspire the reader to greater virtue. Others, like my own Among the Neshelim, are specifically intended to have a negative effect, presenting examples of vice and its attendant consequences to the reader. Some works, like Stranger in a Strange Land, simply lead the reader into deeper thought about their current beliefs and culture and whether they actually want to assume the beliefs that they have always held, or whether those beliefs should be subjected to serious questioning. All of these are valuable,but something that I’ve noticed is that more and more often fiction authors focus on vice. There is an idea floating around in the literary world that ‘damaged’ characters are fundamentally more interesting and thus more desirable than healthy, well-adjusted characters. I want to challenge this idea.
Certainly, and I don’t know anyone who will argue with this, damaged characters are easier to write than healthy characters. They provide their own inherent conflict, and this creates a plethora of story possibilities. They also provide obvious areas in which the character can grow and change throughout the novel/series. So, I will admit that there is some validity to the idea that damaged characters are easier than healthy characters. However, my favorite characters are individuals like Superman, Captain America, Sparhawk (who some may argue is moderately damaged), Leto Atreides, Razumikhin, Aragorn, etc. By and large my favorite characters are always the characters who I look up to. The ones who I actually do want to be like!
It strikes me that I might not be the only person who feels this way. Certainly I like the character of Amet in my serial Rise of the Neshelim, than I do Chin Cao Yu in Among the Neshelim. Amet is, across the board, a better person. Yu is broken, conflicted, deeply damaged, and is subtly torn out of his already questionable view of the world and introduced to a much more deeply broken and disturbed understanding of reality. He is drawn in by the subtle promises of evil, and he pays the consequences. Amet, on the other hand, is a good person. He is worn down by life, challenged and oppressed by circumstances, and emotionally beaten by the evils of the world, but through it all he stands firm, pursues goodness, and practices humility, wisdom, and love. Honestly, to me, Amet is in every way a better and more interesting character than Yu. Both serve their purposes, but even given his immensely difficult circumstances, I actually want to be like Amet. I would never want to be like Yu.
I say this as both exhortation and encouragement. In the world of modern fiction there are relatively few characters that we can actually look up to in general. Damaged characters have an important place in fiction. They allow both stories of warning and stories of redemption. However, there is also a need for characters that are simply good people. Certainly they are harder to write, and often we can get lost in our own problems when we’re trying to write them. However, they are immensely important, and honestly I’d like to see them make more of a comeback :).