Melvin Burgess raised the concept of the human spirit in our characters during a recent Arvon creative writing course he lead with Malorie Blackman and which I attended this summer. So what does he mean?
"The human spirit," says Melvin, "shows how people keep on trying and living and making relationships in the most dreadful of circumstances." In his latest novel, Nicholas Dane, he evokes the character of Bill Sykes from Oliver Twist, a man who seems to be pure evil. But Melvin contends that Sykes was an abused child.
In Nicholas Dane, Melvin explores the experiences of abused children. The Sykes character is Jonesey, a violent criminal who abuses his girlfriend. Yet in a memorable scene, Melvin depicts another more mellow side to Jonesey and shows us his 'human spirit.' For Melvin, the human spirit lies in the bonds between people. "I think of the human spirit," writes Melvin. "as always moving towards the light. You don't always get there - but never stop moving!"
On the Arvon course and in our blog since, many of us have debated further this idea. It seems to me that everyone has something of the human spirit in them but sometimes we forget to show it in our characters.
Remember to show your characters as complex and multi-layered,just as we all are in real life. Even the most awful characters should have a moment when they offer a glimpse of another side, the possibility of the human spirit. The writer should be able to show such a moment with any character at some point in the text.