Friday, January 25, 2008

What makes you love a character?

Obviously, I want readers to love the characters I write. I read books. I watch movies. I listen to songs. There are characters I love. Columbo, of all characters, gets under my skin. I'm a huge fan of the running quirks. Quirks make me empathetic. Emma, in Jane Austen, gets me, even though, in the book, she's not a kind character. But she learns to be human. Human gets me.

Last week I watched a movie I've been avoiding. We are Marshall. I didn't want to see it because I'm not a big fan of death and grief for entertainment, but I jumped to a conclusion that was totally wrong about this movie. My brother-in-law said I should try it, and he's kind of a smart guy, so I thought I'd risk a few minutes.

It was a writer-changing experience. When you work with stories every day, you have a hard time letting go of those instincts to enjoy one someone else is telling. Somewhere during this amazing, tender, beautiful, true story, I realized the writers, the director, the actors all loved this story the way I was loving it.

It could have been melodramatic, heroic to the "look, I'm a hero" degree, symbolic, whatever. But it was a retelling of an event that happened to people who found a way to live despite more loss than I can even conceive, and they did it with the kind of courage only life can summon. And dignity.

So, maybe the key to sharing that kind of love is feeling it.

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