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A Simple, Powerful Story

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This handsome young man:

Francis Alexander's Charles Dickens in 1842

…Wrote this undying story, and it was published 159 years and 1 day ago. What has made this story such an enduring treasure of western society? Why has it birthed no less than infinity adaptations to film, theater, radio, and graphic novel?

The character of Scrooge, so key to the story — if not the story’s very heart — is a predictable sort. He is a caricature of a wealthy merchant-class man from the 19th century, and his pending redemption is as obvious in the first few moments of the story as it is in the final scene where he’s singing and handing out food — or is that only in the Muppet version?

Nonetheless, despite Scrooge’s predictable obsession over wealth, his all-too-easy rejection of love in favor of money, and his happy-ending turnaround, why is it that, while watching a musical theater adaptation of A Christmas Carol last month, I could not stop my eyes from blurring with tears? I knew the story, and it was as predictable as ever. Perhaps it is the sense of redemption, or the overwhelming capacity of love — a power much more like a blinding odor than a flowery song — but something in this Star Wars of Christmas has connected with audiences across the western world for 159 years.

A story is never just a story. And a character never just a character. A story becomes intertwined with the readers. It becomes a part of their life and perspective. When we go throughout the day, we summon stories to help us, in a way, materialize our understanding of the world around us. We see our own lives as manifestations of a story and story as manifestations of our lives.

I can see myself as Scrooge as well as both Tiny Tim and Bob Cratchit. It is the redemptive qualities of Scrooge that draw me to him, the hopeful, well-intended qualities of Tiny Tim that make us want to be like him, and the deep aching, the self-aware and careful mourning of Cratchet that make us long for his wisdom. The death of Tiny Tim resonates with us because Dickens showed the absence of Tim, not Tiny Tim’s passing. And in that powerful absence, we substitute real characters — our own departed loved ones — and it haunts us.

I must remind myself often that I have to write stories as they as meant to be written. I cannot try to force my will into a story and expect it to still be good; I cannot deliberately guide it away from the predictable at the expense of the necessary. If I can allow the story to grow organically, even if it is simple and non-miraculous, if it can present an honest slice of myself — whether through fictive devices or not — then the readers will do the rest.

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