By Erin Thomas | June 22, 2012
At the Niagara conference, one of the concepts that came up over and over again was the idea of a great character. Someone with spunk, someone readers want to spend time with. Someone strong enough and interesting enough to sustain a whole book, or even a series.
And then, last week, I heard about this girl: Martha Payne, a nine-year-old girl in western Scotland, who started a blog called Never Seconds, about the food at her school. She would take pictures of her school lunches and post them. Kids from around the world started taking pictures of their school lunches, and sending them to her for her blog.
And then the school council tried to shut her down. You can read about it in this Wired article.
It seems to have worked out in Martha’s favour. The school backed down and is letting her bring her camera to school again. There was enough public outcry (even Neil Gaiman, whose Twitterverse clout has brought down servers around the world, Tweeted about it) to ensure that Martha will be able to keep her blog going. So this story has happy ending, except, of course, that if it were really a story we’d insist that the main character solved her own problem. I’m not sure to what extent she was involved, or how that all played out.
I keep thinking about this little girl, though. She’s not much older than my daughter. She’s articulate, and she had a great idea. Her blog got people interested; it engaged them. And according to the Wired article, she tried to use the attention from her blog to do some good in the world by encouraging her followers to contribute to a charity that funds schools in Africa. Now that’s inspiring.
She has spunk: she saw a bad situation and tried to do something about it. Other people responded to her in a positive way, if the global response to her blog says anything. She obviously has a good heart, since she wanted to use the blog’s popularity to raise money for charity, not for herself. And she was up against a more powerful force: a nine-year-old girl versus the combined powers of the school board? Really?
It seems to me that, as I work my way through another manuscript revision and try to inch closer and closer to my character, I could do a lot worse than be inspired by Martha Payne. No, my character isn’t going to start a food blog. But I’m going to look for the spark in him that would inspire others. I’m going to find what’s best about him, and bring it out. And I’m probably going to pit him against forces that are more powerful than he is, and see how he deals with that.
And in the real world, I’m going to continue to be very, very happy that there are kids like Martha Payne out there. It gives me faith in the future.