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In the Professional Writing program at USC we were taught how to craft characters people will believe, identify with, and root for. And some of it was surprising. Many of us thought the hero always needed to win in the end, to triumph over his trials. That’s one choice. But what most hadn’t realized, whether in a film or in a book, is that people love a character just for trying. That earnest struggle, that determination against all odds, wins our hearts.
Years later a storyboard artist from Pixar—a company known for excellent storytelling—posted 22 guidelines she’d received while working there. Guess what was Number One? “You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.”
Think about the plays, books, and movies you love. You’ll probably find that you fell for Harry Potter long before he defeated Voldemort, you loved Jean Valjean when he was still striving to escape his fugitive status, and you were on the edge of your seat in countless galactic/fantasy/superhero films where the protagonist failed again and again. Shakespeare practically invented the tragic hero, and even though we watch a weakness trip them up, our hearts ache with compassion for the character.
Making heroes real and vulnerable is a key to making them believable because we all know nobody’s perfect. We’re all mortals with both virtues and flaws and, except for Jesus Christ, we’re going to die that way. What inspires us is that someone as imperfect as we are can still have hope, can still strive and fight the good fight.
In this month’s General Conference, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf said, “Even when you fail, you can choose not to give up, but rather discover your courage, press forward, and rise up… God knows that you are not perfect, that you will fail at times. God loves you no less when you struggle, than when you triumph.”
Too many good people have fallen prey to Satan’s message that perfectionism is the only gateway to heaven. They struggle, fall short, get depressed, and give up. They hold themselves up to impossible standards, completely buying the untrue idea that we have to somehow earn our way into God’s presence. Whenever I hear a variation of this I think, “Then what was it Jesus did?” Think about that. If we are saved solely by our own exertions, how does the Atonement figure into that formula?
Christ alone has made our redemption possible. So, yes, we need to exert effort. But it’s not to buy our way in. It’s to refine us, teach us, humble us, and mold us into better people, people who have learned how to rely upon God and who feel the closeness of that very real relationship. We couldn’t exalt ourselves through our own efforts if we tried. The finest, best souls you know must still rely upon Christ.
This doesn’t mean we abandon all efforts. We still need to obey, triumph over temptations, and serve one another. As President Spencer W. Kimball said, “Brothers and sisters, all the Lord expects of us is to try, but you have to really try!”
Our Heavenly Father knows we will trip and fall. That’s why we have the glorious gift of repentance. He wants to help us every step of the way, again and again as long as we still have the heart to attempt improvement. Learning how to stretch our capacities and also to rely upon him in faith, is one of the purposes of this amazing plan.
By picking ourselves up and making incremental progress, we put into practice what President Dieter F. Uchtdorf described when he said, “Try and keep on trying until that which seems difficult becomes possible, and that which seems only possible becomes habit and a real part of you.”
Best of all, we have the Godhead working to help us—and who could hope for better odds at success than that? Elder Jeffrey R. Holland once said, “Keep trying. Keep trusting. Keep believing. Keep growing. Heaven is cheering you on today, tomorrow, and forever.” That is the formula. That is why we love flawed characters who will not give up. Because that’s how we want to be, too.
Hilton’s newest work, A Little Christmas Prayer, is destined to become a Christmas classic. This tale, for any reader of any faith, teaches us all the magic of gratitude. All her books and Youtube Mom videos can be found on her website. She currently serves as an Interfaith Specialist for Public Affairs.