CRAFT MATTERS: The Importance of Good Character in Characters

Chasing Mavericks PosterThis week I’ve been thinking a lot about character because I saw two movies that prompted the internal debate. The first movie was Chasing Mavericks and the second was Jobs.

First, let me say I love inspirational stories. And if they’re based on a true story, even better. I love books, movies, TV, news feeds–any story, really, about leaders–whether they’re business leaders, sports figures, celebrities, or whatever, it doesn’t matter to me as long as they’re leaders. I’m naturally drawn to them. I want to know what makes a good leader tick. I want to see how they live their life and the influence they’ve had on the people they touch. It’s important to me. I’m not sure why, but it is.

This is what led me to these two movies in the first place. And it’s interesting that for some reason I saw them at the same time because now that I look back, there’s no reason I should have seen them both this week. I rented Chasing Mavericks on Sunday. I kind of get in renting moods and will rent several movies to watch at once. So Sunday was one of those days for me. I’d wanted to see Chasing when it came out, but being the mother of three teenage boys, I was kind of afraid so I’d put it off.

chasing-mavericks-stillYou see, Chasing Mavericks is the true story of Jay Moriarty, a fifteen-year-old kid who wanted to surf Mavericks–these mythical big, I mean, huge waves. Thirty-five-foot waves. The equivalent of five story buildings. People died surfing waves this big. So, anyway, to say the least, I was a little afraid to watch the movie. But for some reason, I remembered on Sunday that I’d wanted to see it and I went out and rented it.

My husband is a Mac guy and an artist. So he’s always been drawn to Apple. And I’ve got to say, I’ve always found Steve Jobs fascinating. I’d seen his later talks televised and found him charismatic. So when the movie came out, I decided I had to see it. I wanted to figure this guy out. My husband and I went to see the movie about Steve Jobs on Tuesday.

The contrast between these two real-life men and their lives couldn’t have been bigger. Or have had a bigger impact on me. At the end of each story, I was wrecked. One in a good way, the other not so good.

The main characters were Jay Moriarty in Chasing Mavericks and, well, Steve Jobs in Jobs.Jobs Movie Poster

I walked away from Chasing inspired, even though I cried at the end. I won’t spoil it if you haven’t seen the movie or if you don’t know anything about Jay Moriarty’s life. But I adored this story. It was so inspiring to me. It reminded me what it means to be human. It showed me the power of a life well-lived to touch and inspire others. It also reinforced my personal belief that passion and determination will get you what you want in life. Ultimately, Chasing Mavericks is a coming of age story about human triumph under the harshest circumstances.

And, honestly, you could say that Jobs is about the same thing–a coming of age story about human triumph under the harshest circumstances. One man was conquering giants in the form of Mavericks and the other’s giants came in the form of reigning human intellect and capacity to innovate new technology and run a corporation.

However, I hated the Jobs movie. And I don’t use that word very often. I’m what I like to call a “tolerant” reader/movie-goer when it comes to story. I’ll go wherever you want to take me without too many questions. And I often find lots to love about a story. However, I walked out of the movie theater on Tuesday discouraged and feeling like I’d been trampled on.

So I got to thinking about why. Why did the story of Steve Jobs’ life so wreck me–in a bad way–when the story of Jay Moriarty’s life had inspired me? Both faced really bad things in their lives. Both had defining moments–those crossroad experiences where they could have chosen one path over another. Both strove for heroic accomplishments and influenced people in their lives.

So what was the difference for me?

The reason boiled down to character. Good character.

I mean, not well-crafted character like we like to think about and muse over as authors, but those pillar qualities of character that make-up good human beings–human beings we think are exemplary and inspiring.

Jobs MovieSee, Steve Jobs alienated those around him. For lack of a better word, he was an asshole. He walked away from life-long friends time and again. When he was at a crossroads where he could have chosen to love someone and help a friend, he walked away–ignored them, because Apple (the vision) was more important to him than the people. Some might say that’s because he was a visionary, a genius, an important man. Look at what he created. Yeah. I see what he left behind. And I don’t much like it. Sure. I adore my iPod. But the wreckage he left behind. No. I hate seeing that. At one point someone tells Steve in the movie that he’s his own worst enemy and it was true.

Then I look at Jay Moriarty’s life and see what he left behind. Steve Jobs’ legacy was a company and products–and, no, the Jobs movie doesn’t portray the end of his life. So he might have changed. Steve Jobs might have had a Come-to-Jesus moment. I don’t know. All I know is the decisions he made time and again were harsh and alienating. Jay Moriarty’s legacy was the people he loved and left behind–the lives he touched. He was kind. Even to the guy who bullied him most of his life. He smiled. He chose to stand by friends even when they’d betrayed him. He faced his fears with courage, he didn’t ignore them or pretend they weren’t there. When his mentor and the father figure in his life faced a life-crushing experience, Jay went out of his way to search for him, to make sure he was okay, to push him, and help him rally–to offer him someone to lean on. Frosty asks at one point, which of the four pillars is supposed to help me get through this life-shattering experience. And Jay says to him–the fifth pillar, me. OMG! Yes. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about people. Yes, people are mortal. And depending on your faith journey, you may believe any range of things about the human soul. But I believe that people matter. What you do to them matters. Here and beyond.

So when I think about story and character–the characters I want to populate my fiction and the character I want to dominate my life and the lives of my own boys–I want to live like Jay lived and I want to inspire others to live just like he lived. Good character matters. It inspires. And, yes, we all have Steve Jobs living inside of us–the potential for mean, alienating behavior where we choose goals and visions over people–however, that doesn’t need to define us or our lives or our journey. I want to reach for the good, the loving, and the inspiring. And that’s what I want the characters in my stories to reach for, too. I want them to embody good character, because in the end, good character does matter.

I believe it with my whole heart.

So what do you think? And have you seen examples in real life and in fiction of good character? Share them with me.