Writers’ Characters Build Character

From Linda’s Opinion & Pondering Page:

There was a time when the notion of offering Character Education in our schools was opposed because so many people believed core ethical values, forming the foundation of an individual’s character, were developed in the home. I think we’re all leaning the same way on that now. We’ve realized the full responsibility and importance of developing good character can not be left to question. The school system has taken on a huge role in grooming the pillars of character; trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship, but I’ve learned through personal experience that a single library book, filled with life lessons, has the opportunity to influence and live closer to an individual, no matter the age, locale, ethnicity, or economic status, than a structured learning environment. Of course, that’s assuming “Johnny or Bonnie can read,” which is another issue to be discussed at a later date. Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed school; secondary, college, as well as, post grad work, but I can honestly say I learned more about life and how to continually groom who I wanted to be and became through the independent books I’ve toted around and read than any class I ever attended. Although I never ran away to join the circus like Toby did, situations characters found themselves in, be it a fictional or a nonfiction write, were puzzles to solve. How the characters involved handled precarious situations were lessons learned whether I chose to adopt or dismiss their methods. Not all lessons are the “do’s” in life. Ralph Waldo Emerson had lots to say about character, but the statement that sticks with me and probably the one most remembered by others is “What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matter compared to what lies within us.” And what character lies within us is grown and developed by those we come to know in reality or fiction while experiencing our gift of life. I feel a huge responsibility toward my readership when developing characters because I recognize people change when they read. Although I have authored numerous articles, short stories and a novel, I have this need to ping back and forth, between writer and educator. I’ve often wondered if abandoning educator would make me a better writer, but I’m not sure it’s possible to stifle the teacher in me. The call to educate might be too great. Someone once wrote “Character is what you are in the dark.” I believe that too. Honesty should happen whether anyone is watching or not. Values that denote individuals of good character have been roughed up over the years, some even abandoned, so it seems people have to be encouraged to differentiate between what’s good and what’s bad. But writing has definitely changed; evolved in many ways and not always in the best direction in my opinion. On occasion, I read a book where the lead character champions less than honest, less than kind, less than respectful, less than good all around and can still be perceived as coming out on top, based on new and lacking standards. I find that troublesome because those who are teetering or easily influenced, especially a young mind whose character is still developing, may adopt the darker dispositions of life because they have been glorified or celebrated in a published work. When I build my characters, it becomes a requisite for me to leave the light on for everyone who picks up a Bergman-Althouse story. Is that wrong? Is it limiting? Or, is it responsible writing? Or does it even matter?

Linda Bergman-Althouse

author of “Save Them All