/ / Articles

Guest Entry: Jeremy McNabb Asks “Solid or Static?”

Good morning! I’ve caught up with another writer friend of mine and asked him to write us an entry based on a series of conversations and observations we’ve had on Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.   Jeremy McNabb is a […]
| Apr 20, 2011 | No comments | Series: ,

Good morning! I’ve caught up with another writer friend of mine and asked him to write us an entry based on a series of conversations and observations we’ve had on Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files.   Jeremy McNabb is a steampunk author, youth director, and speaker. His latest e-novella, Gravesight, is available on Amazon Kindle. Hope you enjoy the read!

Solid or Static?
Jeremy McNabb

Typically, good characters change and evolve over the course of a novel. They change even more drastically over the course of the series. The author presents them with new challenges, new weaknesses, they take unexpected turns. In their core, they remain the same person usually, but the way they interact with other characters, their environment, even their own doubts and fears may change. And these changes are the very thing many readers are looking forward to. Ask any long-time fan of a series what they hope to see in the future, and you’ll get a wish-list of storylines that contain all sorts of variations on otherwise well-known characters.

  • What if Hermoine Granger was romantically involved with Draco Malfoy, instead of Ron Weasley?
  • What if Leverage’s character Eliot suddenly became addicted to performance enhancing drugs?
  • What if Jesus had a wife?

Fan-fiction websites are full of such speculative stories. And really, bookstores are starting to see their fair share, as well. That leaves us with a few questions: What do we do with an unchanging character? Do we have any use, whatsoever, for a person who has found their equilibrium with the world in which they reside?

One of the most effectively enacted, unchanging characters of the modern age is a man named Michael Carpenter, who appears in Jim Butcher’s urban fantasy series The Dresden Files. Here is a character who drips with Christian symbolism. He shares his first name with the leader of Heaven’s armies. His last name, which also happens to be his profession, is also the earthly profession of Jesus and Joseph. He carries a not-so-symbolic sword. A brief biography looks something like this: Carpenter, devoted husband and father of seven kids, is a descendent of Charlemagne, a Knight of the Cross, and his prayers succeed where Wizard Dresden’s magic fails. We read that God repeatedly calls upon him to take up his sword Amoraccius to vanquish the Denarians, thirty rogue arch-demons each possessing one of Judas’ silver coins. Butcher does a terrific job of making Carpenter into the very definition of holiness without employing even a hint of self-righteousness. When Michael isn’t battling demons and dragons, he’s politely reminding Harry not to take the Lord’s name in vain, and that black magic is of the devil. If ever there was a successfully executed character who had attained entire sanctification, Michael Carpenter is the one.

But therein lies the catch. The man never changes. Ever. From every angle, Carpenter should be a failure of a character. He never loses his cool. He never breaks down. He never falters and rarely hesitates. In every way, he is static in his perfection. Or would be, if that was the whole story.

Rather than presenting us with a character who fails to interact with reality—the problem behind most static characters—Jim Butcher has provided us with an excellent example of a character who is rooted in something beyond reality. Michael doesn’t ignore temptations and trials as much as he seems to rise above them. It isn’t that he doesn’t react to his environment, but that he sees his environment for what it really is. It isn’t that he’s static.

It’s that he’s incredibly solid.

Jim Butcher has created a character who has built his house upon the Rock, and because of his mastery of the written word, he has made Michael’s surety in Christ as realistic as that of any believer we could meet on the street. And that’s what makes for good writing. Jim Butcher seems to understand the folly of a static character, and writes in such a way that Michael Carpenter sidesteps all the pitfalls into which even seasoned Christian writers stumble. And in doing so, he sets a standard for the rest of us.

Leave a Reply

avatar
  Subscribe  
Notify of
E.J. Apostrophe
Guest

Hi Jeremy,

Hmmm…this post has me taking a step back. I never thought that a character could be static and that character arcs define a successful story (e.g. Simon Peter become Peter the rock, Saul becoming Paul, etc).

Do you think this kind of dichotomy will work for any type of fiction or does a writer have to risk being different by keeping a character static then seeing the reaction of the readers?

Jeremy McNabb
Guest

I think that a character should react to the story he or she is in. They should undergo some degree of personal growth. From the same storyline, we see Harry Dresden who opens up his heart, gets hurt, feels guilty, then gets angry with himself for feeling guilty. He falls in love, feels betrayed, fears for someone that he barely cared about only a book before.

Darth Vader started out as a bright child, became a promising student, grew into an arrogant student, an terrible villian, then at last, a redeemed father.

Characters who do not react and change are little more than scenery, in most cases.

I think if you want to keep a character static, you have to understand why they’re static (other than “to be different”) and you have to compensate in other places. You have to find other ways to make the reader root for him if there’s no room for him to grow. It’s not impossible, but there’s very few who can do it well.

Amy Rose Davis
Guest

I would submit that it might be different for supporting characters than for protagonists. A supporting character can, in fact, be that one solid thing that an unsure, insecure protagonist can lean on during times of upheaval. I haven’t read an entire Harry Dresden book yet–I’ve only read Kindle samples–but Harry seems very… weighed down. Perhaps that’s the beauty of having such a solid character in the background. It gives us some kind of assurance that the entire world in which Harry lives won’t blow up at any moment–and if it does, at least one guy got things right.

I would also submit that a solid character like the one you describe might work better in a series like this than in a series where the entire world is going through massive change–the difference between a series like The Dresden Files and a series like Wheel of Time. In Wheel of Time, EVERYTHING is upside down. Static and solid characters alike get killed. But in a world where things are more or less predictable except for the crisis du jour of the particular novel, a solid character might be easier to make believable.

Just some thoughts… And all that said… My own epic series has what I hope will turn out to be a very solid character through all five books. But then, he’s 700 years old. At a certain point, people have to grow up and figure out what they believe. 🙂

Good post, Jeremy.

Zoe
Guest

Sherlock Holmes never changes. He’s interesting because his character is already complex and unusual, and because his different circumstances frequently show us something new about him, or just because his powers of deduction simply never fail to astonish. I’ve been reading nothing but Sherlock Holmes stories for the past month and a half and I still love him. I think that’s a successful character.

Galadriel
Guest

I saw you mentioned the Dresiden Files…I read three of his books, and then stopped. They aren’t badly written or anything, but I had nightmares both nights after reading them–really strong ones–and decided to error on the side of caution.