I’m usually late in getting to the movies (if I go at all), and so despite the fact that it’s been out for a month, and despite the fact that I’ve been an X-Men fan since being hooked on the Fox animated series back in the ’90s, I just saw X-Men: First Class last night.
What this movie did really, really well: character.
X-Men has always stood out for its characters. They’re conflicted, sympathetic, fallible, and constantly changing. Even in the kids’ cartoons, the X-Men metanarrative doesn’t do shallow or trite. And First Class did a fantastic job of showing that: of exploring the events that make men and women who they are, for good or for ill.
As an editor, I sometimes have to challenge writers on this: “So okay, all this nifty/scary/funny/exciting stuff happens–but how does it affect the characters? How does it shape them, challenge them, change them?”
Until you’re writing about characters, you’re not really writing a story. You’re writing a news report. Readers might get caught up in the excitement, but until the story really connects with its people (or mutants, ghosts, dinosaurs, anthropomorphic animals, and other speculative stand-ins for people), we don’t really care.
Why is that? Well, because despite what scientists would like us to believe (blind chance and all that), our universe is personal. It was created by a living Being, a personal God who breathed his Spirit into Adam and made him a living soul. At the heart of our world is Trinity, individuality, family–character, and characters.
When I think back to my favourite books (Christian spec fic and otherwise) the ones I love most are those where I most deeply connected with the characters. They got under my skin, spoke to me, challenged me, personality to personality. Maybe that’s why Jesus didn’t just speak in abstractions, but clothed his teaching in human skin: the prodigal son, the good Samaritan, the rich man who stored up all his possessions in barns and then died, discovering himself to be completely impoverished.
Tell me what you think: what is it about character that makes stories matter?