The cabin girl and I had a little chat the other day. She'd been reading a book, but decided to stop in the middle and not finish.
As a writer, I can't think of a worse insult.
"So what was the problem? Why did you stop?" I asked.
"The main character did something stupid. He gave in to his," she rolled her eyes, "tragic flaw."
"Maybe later in the story he'll get a chance to redeem himself," I said.
"But mom, he's already totally lost my respect. I can't look up to him anymore because he gave in!"
"People in real life give in all the time," I said. I think I'd done it myself a few times already that day.
"But this isn't real life, it's a story. When I read a story I want characters that I can look up to, that are better than people in real life. Sure people give in, but I don't want a story about that. I read for characters that give me a good example to follow."
That made me think back to when I was my daughter's age, searching through the school library for a female protagonist I could look up to, emulate, become. I never found her. At the time, I decided it would be up to me to write her.
My daughter continued, "I don't think characters have to be perfect. They should have weaknesses. And minor characters can give in and betray you, but I don't want the story to be about them. The main character can even have given in to their weakness in the past, but I want a story about not giving in anymore. I want a character that makes the right choice, no matter what."
She went on to say that when she's in pain or facing a hard choice, she often remembers her heroes from books and finds strength in their examples. As a writer, I can't think of a higher honor.
Do young people need story heroes to look up to? What kind of heroes are you giving them?