I am sitting in a hotel room in sunny Philadelphia, where the National Council for Teachers of English is having its annual convention. Fellow Hamline prof Alexandria LaFaye put together a panel on using fantasy in the classroom with Bruce Colville (!) and me. Bruce is hilarious–though given his books it would be odd if he were quite dour in person. It’s great to be around so many English teachers, but I found myself hyperconscious of the things I said. I didn’t want to land in their Stinkpots.
Kerry Madden put this picture up on her blog this morning. This was done by a high school student named Rayna McGuire, inspired by Charles Baxter’s advice to get your characters up a tree and throw apples at them.
Poor characters. The things they go through just to exist.
When I heard this expression from Jane Resh Thomas during my first semester, I was so confused. I couldn't imagine what she meant. The more I thought about it, I disliked the idea of having something bad happen to my characters. I seriously had a dream soon afterward about perfect characters who never had any problems. I woke up determined never to write any characters as eternally boring as those dream-gods. In one sense it feels like picture books of a lost puppy are the easy way out: The problems are light, if not small. I don't think this is true. The shorter the book, the more intense the problem. Now, how do I make people laugh, that's a bigger character issue?
I know. I have a hard time with this, too. It's so hard to give life to these people and then abuse them. I've come to terms with doing that with people–can't do it with animals.