Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Raising the Human Spirit.

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.


  1. I love the idea of the human spirit always moving toward the light ... lovely post, Miriam.

  2. Great to have another post and a tip, Miriam. I knew it would be a good one!

  3. Many thanks folks, I do think this is a vital concept for all of us to be considering. I will be blogging further on this topic in relation to enriching our characters. Watch this space!

  4. I like the idea of people all being bonded to one another. Some of the strongest evil characters I've found are the ones in which you could at least partially understand a little of their motives. Heather Kilgour

  5. Yes, Heather, I think that is exactly what we are looking for in showing the human spirit.

  6. Yes, I agree - even the vilest character is a human being and will still form relationships, make friends and even love, although sometimes in a terribly twisted way.

    A photographer for the French publishing house Gallimard, who had taken pictures of all the great French novelists of the 20C, once said to me, "Novelists are the humanists." exactly - because novels are all about human relationhips, they should show human understanding of all things, even the evil.

  7. Exactly Melvin, and our job as writers is to show human relationships in full three dimensional state, no half measures, so that our characters are fully realised on the page.


Looking forward to reading your comment.