What Can We Steal From John Gosselink’s The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter?

Title of Work and its Form:  The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter, novel
Author: John Gosselink
Date of Work: 2010
Where the Work Can Be Found:  The book can be found at fine independent bookstores everywhere, including Boise, Idaho’s Rediscovered Books.

Bonuses: Here are some of the humor columns Mr. Gosselink has written for his local paper.  Here is a very kind review of the book from A Book and a Hug.

Element of Craft We’re Stealing: Characterization

Discussion:
Thaddeus Ledbetter is a precocious seventh-grader who is as snarky as he is smart.  Young Mr. Ledbetter is just trying to help Principal Cooper increase the productivity of students and teachers at his school.  How is he repaid?  An extended stay in in-school suspension.  Does being persecuted keep Thaddeus down?  Of course not.  Although exiled, the young man compiles a series of documents to demonstrate that he is innocent of any charges that have been unfairly leveled at him.

Yes, this is a “document novel.”  Just like the one I’ve written.  The Defense contains letters from Thaddeus’s friends and enemies, reports the principal completed to explain his student’s behavior, the minutes from the tenant board in Thaddeus’s building and more.  (Yes, he annoys people at home, too.)  I love the way the narrative is built in Mr. Gosselink’s book in the same way I love how the narrative develops in my own document novel.  Instead of being told what is happening by a narrator, the reader absorbs the documents and puts the story together for him or herself.

Mr. Gosselink’s book is extremely charming.  Even though I’m not exactly in the “young adult” demographic, I was taken in by the different voices that Mr. Gosselink employs in each document.  I can see that Thaddeus would be quite annoying if I were his teacher, but it’s also clear that the young man is bright and has a great deal of potential.  The teachers and the principal acknowledge this in their missives, as well.  Mr. Gosselink made a crucial decision in the characterization of the book when he gave Thaddeus a REASON to be so annoying and so dedicated to “helping” others.  Thaddeus’s father, an efficiency expert, recently died after a long illness.  Why wouldn’t the boy take on some of his father’s attitudes?  Why wouldn’t he retreat into the “service” of his pastor (accidentally setting him on fire) and elderly people (accidentally feeding them food that is a choking hazard)?

Good protagonists and antagonists do things for a reason.  Think of a bad action movie.  You likely don’t really know or care why the bad guy is trying to destroy all of the communications satellites around the planet.  The good guy?  Maybe their children are in danger.  The internal conflicts are likely not very complicated.  We love The Defense of Thaddeus A. Ledbetter because it is hilarious and fun, but it means something because it’s really the story of a sad young man and the people who care about him and are trying to shepherd him through a sad time in his life.

What Should We Steal?

  • Consider writing a work whose story is told through documents instead of by a narrator.  Just make sure my document novel gets published first.  Okay?  =)
  • Give your audience a justification for why they are the way they are.  People don’t do things for no reason and neither should your characters.

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