Monday, January 11, 2010

Adoption and Comics

Sorry for the sporadic posting lately. My wife and I are taking very long classes to learn more about adoption and meet the requirements to take a new child into our home.

We were in class all day on Saturday and it was honestly fascinating. Most of the classes so far have seemed to be a bit on the obvious side but this one was about what they call "attachment parenting." What that means is essentially, how to form bonds with a child that is not used to having attachments and how to help that child bond with you. It's really interesting stuff.

Why, you may wonder, am I writing about it on a comics blog? Well, because I was often reminded of the essential building blocks of stories while sitting in the room. As we heard horror stories of outrageous, abusive and violent behavior by children when it comes to their adoptive parents, at the core of those actions, were very basic and understandable human emotions and motivations.

Some of these children don't feel like they're worth anything because they haven't been properly cared for. So, they act up and act out to prove they're not worth anything. And it can be destructive. Yes, that's terrible. But it also reminded me of how characters work in stories.

Stories are defined by conflict. Conflict comes from character. And character's are defined by their actions. And their actions are dictated by their motivations.

I've known that in the storytelling sense for years and I don't know that I ever stopped to think about if it was really true. But it is. The reason those are "rules" for good storytelling is because they're rules for life. The trick, and this is true for abused and neglected children as well, is to figure out as best you can what the motivation is for any given action.

It's not easy. I have a perfectly well adjusted 2 and 1/2 year old and I have no idea why he does have the stuff he does. Fortunately, he's not setting the house on fire or anything, but it's really hard sometimes to figure out why he doesn't want to take a bath, or why he has decided to discard one toy, or to hit another child. Or, on the flip side, I also don't always know why I get a hug or a kiss on the cheek. And I try with Cale to understand these things. To figure out what motivates that particular action--and it's hard.

It's hard because we all have conflicting motivations because life is complicated. And complicated people do things that are hard to decipher. And that's true of complicated characters. We call them three dimensional characters.

Yeah, anyway, it's nice to know all this stuff floating around in my head may all be useful in a very real and positive way in the world. On the other hand, I still can't figure out my son... or my wife for that matter!

For what it's worth, the rules of great storytelling are their because they reflect real life. And that's pretty darn cool.