When I was in college at BIOLA University I took a creative writing course. A big part of the class was spent on character development.
Writers tend to write about what they know. Even if they are creating a new world, the characters in their writing will be recognizable. The two places writers draw from are personal experience (people they know, friends, family, coworkers, etc.) and fictional characters (from Books, movies, TV).
But the best writers find a way to combine the two and create new characters, blended from both people pools to better tell their story.
One big assignment we had for the class was to find 4-5 people we knew, make notes of all of their characteristics, good and bad, and find a similar group from the fiction pool, and combine them to tell a story.
I knew who my 4-5 people were. Just a few years earlier I had lost my Mom to cancer – still the major defining moment in my life. Destroyed by the traumatic event, I went numb and gave up on a lot of things I cared about. It was a core group of friends that helped keep me going and propped me up until I got my feet under me again.
So Andrea, Rob, Brad, Kristi and Tonya were my people, I just needed to find a corresponding fictional group.
Like most of my assignments, it got put on the back burner and I found myself a day from having to turn it in and not having written anything.
I was coming back from dinner with a friend that night, when we came across a crowd in the dorm lobby. It was movie night. The dorm was split into the men’s wing and the women’s wing, but the lobby (common area) was open to all, and once a week everyone would gather to watch a movie together.
I stopped to take a look before heading upstairs to write my paper. The movie that night was the Wizard of Oz. I walked off, then stopped and took another look. Then the inspiration struck. And the following was what I wrote up that night (to the best of my recollection).
The Yellow Brick Road
Going around the room, I compared each of my friends to the characters from The Wizard of Oz.
Dorothy – Andrea Malcolm – Physically a match, even with a little farm girl naiveté thrown in. A sweet and caring individual. Kind, compassionate, always willing to help others. Always positive and looking on the bright side.
Tin Man – Robert Cobb – Physically a match, tall slender build. The Oz Tin Man started with no heart, but found it along the way. Rob is all heart. He has a passion for people. A caring spirit that loves people, the good, the bad and the ugly.
Lion – Brad Godwin – Physically a match, larger than life personality (it also helped that our high school mascot was a Lion). The Oz Lion started with no courage, which usually comes from a lack of confidence, but later found it. Brad is the epitome of courage, the man oozes confidence. So much so that you can’t help but be confident when you are around him. I have countless tales from high school of doing things I never would have done without him there (and most of them good things). He was the one that talked me into joining the school newspaper, setting the course for my lifelong passion, as well as writing song lyrics to help express myself.
Scarecrow – Kristi Cope – Physically a match, tall and skinny, even had short frizzy hair at one point, resembling a scarecrow. The Oz Scarecrow was thought to have no brains, but turned out to be the smart one of the bunch. Kristi was a great student, in school and in life. The quiet one always taking the time to notice the little things, always willing to just listen and not judge. Always smarter than people gave her credit for. The Scarecrow in the field also resembles another monumental figure, a man on a cross, and the faith that comes with that. Faith is something Kristi was never short on. No matter the situation, you could count on Kristi to have the Faith to get you through.
Glinda (the Good witch) – Tonya Gan – Physically a match, the pretty, blue-eyed helper, that seemed to magically appear out of nowhere in a time of need and showed the way home.
My professor was impressed, and so was I that I had come up with this in one night. But when she was done, she asked, “If this is your group of friends, where do you fit in?”
I had been so busy filling in the other people I hadn’t thought about it. She said she would give me extra credit if I came back after the weekend with a version that included me.
At first I was stumped, not sure of who I was, there were not that many characters remaining. What was I supposed to be, a flying monkey? The only good character left was the Wizard himself, but that didn’t really fit who I was. Or did it?
I have never been the guy out front in the spotlight, commanding the audience to look at him. I have always been the guy in the background, making sure everything gets done … the guy behind the scenes … the guy behind the curtain pulling the strings … and there it was.
Wizard of Oz – Brian Goff – Physically, maybe not the prototype you would expect of a grand wizard, but a guy that gets things done. Someone that had suffered a traumatic event, was lost in a new world, and could not find his way home. In order to survive, he felt he the need put on a disguise, and create something bigger than himself, to distract from the pain he was really feeling.
That is until he found a band of friends, with someone who stayed positive and was there to help (Andrea); someone who was there to show compassion and lend a kind heart (Rob); someone to lift him up and give him the confidence to get back up again (Brad); someone to lend an ear and show the faith (Kristi) needed to get through. And finally someone to be there through it all and shine the light (Tonya) to finally get him back home.
I got an A on the paper, and a lot of extra credit for the self-examination.
Some 25 years later, I look back at this and where my band of friends are today.
Dorothy/Andrea is still that kind soul, and a positive attitude is something that she uses every day while teaching elementary school children.
TinMan/Rob still has that passion for people that love has served him well as pastor of his church in San Diego.
Lion/Brad is a businessman that had the confidence to strike out on his own, and has international dealings across the globe. And is still giving me the courage to reach for the stars.
Scarecrow/Kristi is still that sweet, kind-hearted woman, who had the faith to reach out in a time of need and adopt a little girl from Haiti and raise her alongside her own children.
Glinda/Tonya has reappeared in my life when I least expected it. The loving mother of three has turned my world upside down.
Though they have all gone their separate ways, in just a few months they will all be reunited to watch as Glinda/Tonya and Wizard/Brian become man and wife.
I will be blessed to once again be surrounded by my friends as I begin a new journey.
The (Yellow Brick) road of life is filled with all kinds of characters, and you never know who God is going to put on your path to help you along the way. Be thankful for all of them, and never waste an opportunity to make friends.