Yesterday in church we had a guest speaker come for a presentation on avoiding bullying. This is a topic that's fueled many a writer, so it must be important.
I especially liked the comment by my friend and critique partner, Cindy Stagg. She compared people to sheep (in the milling around, oblivious sense, but if we fear public opinion and let bullying go on, then it works in the mindless sense too) and bullies to wolves. Bullies are best stopped by peers. One "sheep dog" who takes a stand can make a difference. And the best thing is if a group of peers will band together and speak up. One simple, "Cut it out" can make a difference.
I sat there thinking, "That kid over there, the one whispering through the whole presentation, should really shut up and listen to this."
But then I realized, If I go over and make him feel bad, I will ruin the whole point of the presentation, which should be creating kindness, love, and unity in our congregation. If the kid gets angry and embarassed, he isn't going to listen at all. What will be better is if the other kids sitting around him stop chatting and listen. If the cute girls on the next row pay more attention to people's hearts than how colorful their outfit might be. If they then use a little peer pressure to make the teasing stop.
My judgmental thoughts could have ruined the hour for me, too. Instead I sat on my hands and tried to let it go.
None of us are perfect. I may not consider myself a bully--still, in fact, a bit scarred by my sixth-grade tormentors--but I can still learn to think of others more. Am I always as kind as I should be?
In BRIDGE TO TERABITHIA, Katherine Ann Patterson crafts a bully who is memorable, in part, because we understand her motivation. And while not all bad characters need to become good ones, her redemption is one of my favorite parts of the story.
A bully is more interesting, and realistic, when we see the good and the bad juxtaposed inside her.
I never pan books publicly. so I won't say the name of the otherwise-good book I've been reading, enjoying yet grinding my teeth over the love interest. He's just too intensely perfect and attentive. He is unfailingly devoted no matter how whiny or downright mean the girl gets.
If I had that kind of permanent PMS, my longsuffering, generally kind husband would eventuallly say, "Cut the crap already." A sentiment, frankly, I'm still hoping book boy will say to his female protagonist. Trust me, perfect-page boyfriend, she'll respect you more.
Like bullies and other villains, good characters shouldn't be so perfect that their halos are visible. Sure, it's good wish fulfillment, but what real boy is ever going to live up to that kind of ideal?
In real life, no one should be a bully. In books, no bully or boyfriend should be 100% black or white wool. Like clothes, book characters come best in a variety of colors.