I have a framed poster that used to hang in my father’s office. The image is a shaggy dog, mouth open, ready to lick you to pieces. Written on the dog’s tag are the words:
Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic!
Apparently, this is a quote from Dale Carnegie. In my mind, it’s from my father. Except, for him, it wasn’t an act. He just was. Enthusiastic and passionate.
Perhaps this is why I’m drawn to people – real and literary – who are enthusiastic and passionate. But I know I’m not alone in this attraction.
Over the weekend, I watched a college dive meet hosted at UCLA. Students from several colleges woke up at the crack of dawn to hurl themselves through the air with strength, style, and grace. Outside. During a cold spell. Swimmers at least get to stay in the water. Divers get out and stand, wet, in the cold air, over and over again. Yes, this is southern California. But it was also 53 degrees at 10:00 AM when we arrived – and they’d already “warmed up” - if you can call it that – when the air temperature was even colder. Some divers wore shoes all the way up to the board – to keep their feet from being completely numb. It’s hard to dive if you can’t feel your feet.
That’s gotta be passion.
This can be a good thing to keep in mind with creating characters. Passion and enthusiasm can be appealing. If your character cares about something passionately, he/she will take action and do something. It’s easy to root for a character who cares and wants and works hard.
During the dive meet one young man got lost in the midst of his flips and smacked, hard. Flat on his stomach. Belly flop. From the 10-meter platform. It was one of the most horrifying sounds I’ve ever heard. He was treated for shock. He might have been coughing up blood along with his bloody nose. And yet, I am sure he will get back out there and dive again.
I’m in awe of this passion. Drive. Determination.
Amber Appleton, the main character in the YA novel, Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick, takes enthusiasm to a new level. Definitely over the top. Her enthusiasm is borderline ridiculous and exhausting. Except she has so many reasons not to be positive. She lives with her messed up mother in a school bus. She’s picked on at school. She’s worried about her dog. Life is hard. And yet, she keeps oozing positivity. And then, when she loses her spark, it’s utterly heartbreaking. We want her to find that passion once again.
Mr. Gilly from the picture book, Trashy Town by Andrea Zimmerman and David Clemesha, loves his job. He wants nothing more than to clean up his home town. He cheers his refrain, “I dump it in, I smash it down, I drive around the trashy town.” He’s not complaining, he’s privileged to have this job he loves so much. All of a sudden, we want to help. Please, let us pick up trash too!
A quieter character, but equally passionate about his vocation, is Amos McGee, zookeeper, from the picture book, A Sick Day for Amos McGee by Philip C. Stead. Amos loves his job at the zoo. He shows his passion through his steady devotion to his animal friends. So when he gets sick, they show their appreciation right back at him. Love, passion, enthusiasm – ahhh, so satisfying!
What do you care about? Who do you admire?
Sarah Wones Tomp
WRITING ON THE SIDEWALK