As I write my next YA book right now, I am weighing some deep principles of story. And as I do, I realize that the reason these deep principles of story apply so well to the world of tales is because they apply so well to the real world — to life, if you will.
For example, today I am probing the world of rich characters and what truly motivates them. Now most characters have some form of inner conflict going on in their lives — especially when we meet them in the early part of a story. (Protagonists for sure.) In many ways, their internal conflict, at least for the stories I write, boils down to a want vs. need factor.
People want things. We all do. And sometimes we will do a heck of a lot of foolish things in pursuit of that want. But when we shift from mere wanting something to realizing that we actually need something, when we realize something fundamental about ourselves and our own nature — and then we act on it — that’s when true character comes out and is revealed.
And often this realization is the climax of a story. It also applies to the lives of students, I believe. (Hang with me for a sec).
To use an example that is probably familiar to many, I’ll look at the movie RAIN MAN. In Rain Man, Tom Cruise thinks he wants his father’s money. What he really wants – really needs – is family love, something he never truly had and discovers in his relationship with Ray. The movie is a journey of Tom Cruise discovering this.
And I love Rain Man. Great film. An egotistical, slick hot shot (who we know, deep down, is really a good guy) finds some real soul in his life. It moves mountains for me as an audience member.
So let’s apply this want vs. need idea to our students. What do our students think they want? Friends, fun, popularity, good looks, sizzle, and so on. The siren call of teenage-hood. (And please don’t bang on me for generalizing right here because yes, that’s what I am doing.)
But what is it that they really need? Education. Character. Self-Discipline. Self-starter-ness. (Once again, broad brush strokes here.)
And when a kid enters class at the start of the year chasing their wants (as listed above) and transforms over the course of a school year (or high school career) to recognizing and actively and eagerly pursuing their needs, teachers — like me — often feel great.
Because a story has played out which we believe is one that is ultimately awesome for the protagonist of this tale.
Getting our own kids to recognize their needs and take ownership over them, that’s the Hero’s Tale of Teen-Age hood. And I am not sure there is anything more rewarding that being an audience member for this fantastic student journey.
And then, to think about how we might have played some small role, become a bit player, like a wise sage or ancient from a land long gone with a helpful talisman (i.e. a good book… lol!) well, it makes the unfolding of this story even that much more delicious.