Thursday, July 8, 2010

Character Matters

Until this past weekend, the last movie that I can recall that made me cry out of control was Schindler’s List. Sure, I well-up regularly, get a lump in my throat, shed a tear or two. But that’s nothing like what I experienced on Sunday when I saturated my popcorn-greased napkin and had to move on to my sleeve for additional tear-absorbency. I bet you’re wondering which movie made me cry so much. Was it a war movie? A romance flick? Did someone die? Did someone lose something precious to them? Was someone forced to eat brussels sprouts?

No, no one died, nor was anyone forced to eat a vile vegetable. The movie was none other than Toy Story 3 and it was about a young boy growing up, preparing to leave his childhood behind and go to college. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t seen the movie, so I won’t give away anything that the trailers haven’t already shared.

The story is that Andy, now a young man, is heading off to college. His mother wants him to clean out his room prior to his departure and so, he is forced to look his beloved toys in the eyes (or eye in Mrs. Potato Head’s case, as she seems to have misplaced one of her eyes) and decide what to do with them. That’s all I’m going to give you. Go see the movie--you won’t regret it.

As I sat there sobbing at the end of the movie, at a certain point I realized that I was crying over a cartoon. Wait, make that blubbering over a cartoon. It made me realize just how connected to these characters I felt. It brought to my attention the impact that fictional characters can have upon us. Characters can feel like real people with whom we can empathize. They may just be computer animations on the screen, but they feel genuine. Like friends.

Was my emotional reaction really me, projecting my own combination of pride and sadness about my oldest son growing up and starting high school this fall? Maybe. Perhaps it was due to the fact that the first Toy Story movie came out when I was pregnant with said son. Now, all of a sudden, Andy, the (albeit fictional) boy whom I admired before I was a full-fledged mom, was flying the coop, and before I know it, my very real son will be doing the same. I watched Andy grow up along with my son. I can recite Toy Story 2 by heart, as it was my son’s favorite movie when he was about four years old. That well-played video cassette was a huge part of all of our family car-trips. We never took a road trip without that movie! My husband and I would sit in the front seat reciting the dialogue right along with the characters. It was as if we had visitors in the backseat, keeping us all company on our journey.

There’s an old saying that “character matters.” Well, apparently, characters matter, too. Whether you are a movie-goer, a reader or a writer, you know that well-crafted characters can make a story come to life and can become so familiar, that they feel like they’re close friends or family members. This is something that I keep in mind as I write my stories and create the characters that live in them. I hope my readers will laugh and cry along with the characters in my books. I want them to feel as strong a connection as the one I felt with Andy, Woody and Buzz.

Now, where are my tissues?