As you guys probably noticed, I missed Saturday pretty hard. That’s going to be fixed soon, but is also not the reason I’m posting. We’ve got a guest post today from the author of that very book. Ms. Larsen’s been so kind as to write a guest post for us about character driven books, so I’m going to stop babbling and get to the part everyone’s here for.
Guest post by YA Author, Angela Sage Larsen
“Suddenly there was a great burst of light through the Darkness. The light spread out and where it touched the Darkness the Darkness disappeared. The light spread until the patch of Dark Thing had vanished, and there was only a gentle shining, and through the shining came the stars, clear and pure,” writes Madeleine L’Engle in her classic, A Wrinkle in Time. Meg is one of my favorite literary characters of all time. She goes on a great journey through time and space to rescue her father, but really, of course, she rescues herself. What a great story line!
There are basically two kinds of story lines: plot-driven and character-driven. While I love a story that moves along and has a lot of action, I’m partial to the stories that are carried by strong characters (who find themselves in difficult situations, because let’s face it, every story has conflict). What they do in reaction to those situations not only gives us a glimpse into their soul, it impels the story forward and makes the plot that much more promising, as in A Wrinkle in Time. When I write (or read, for that matter) from the standpoint of well-developed characters, the plot becomes more exciting because it isn’t something that happens incidentally or outside of the characters, but it is a part of them. The plot almost seems like another character playing off of the protagonist.
As an author, I’m inspired to write narratives that are character-driven in another way, too. I’m passionate about stories that have a depth to them (OK, you can call them a message); but, most art does say something. I’m particularly vehement about characters who have, well…character (sorry, I really did use a Thesaurus, but that’s the only word that works!). Especially strong females who might find themselves in less than ideal situations but through their character they are defined, and find their true selves; the conflict does not define them, they are able to raise above it (which, of course, generally requires a struggle). I love the etymology of “character;” it comes from root words meaning, “engraved mark,” also “symbol or imprint on the soul,” “to engrave/pointed stake,” to the meaning extended by metaphor to “a defining quality.”
The idea of character is now more important than ever; not only in entertainment and literature for kids, young adults, and adults, but in life. We are being hounded by images and messages that would whittle us down to sex-crazed, depraved consumers, obsessed with material accoutrements and cheap quick fixes (maybe that’s the darkness Ms. L’Engle wrote about??). Unfortunately, these “defining qualities” are being spoon-fed especially to young girls. Anyone call tell you, when the doo-doo hits the fan, merely being pretty, skinny, or sexy ain’t gonna help (just ask Katniss Everdeen*). It’s quite a disservice to encourage–or maybe worse, remain apathetic about–these messages as being legit. Aren’t the best books about characters who buck the establishment and find their own way? We need more books for kids about girls who rebel against this perceived “normal” and find the true substance of themselves beyond the shallow husk of mere physicality.
Here are some of my favorite, character-driven middle grade/YA books:
Warriors Don’t Cry by Melba Pattilo Beals
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Montgomery
Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Number the Stars by Lois Lowry
*The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Divergent by Veronica Roth
Angela grew up hearing “what a character!” practically every day (which may or may not have been complimentary). It rubbed off because her life is filled with characters and a search for character. She is the author of the brand new young adult series, Fifties Chix (FiftiesChix.com) about 5 time-traveling teens. The first book is called Travel to Tomorrow. She maintains a blog at AngelaSageLarsen.com.