put the grove in the graveI attended my son’s season opener last week. Both schools had been looking forward to this game since they met last year—even though the two schools aren’t in the same division anymore (our school just moved up one), it’s our biggest rivalry. It also happens to be the district just a few miles up the road, so these kids know each other well.

I was saddened to hear that one of our opponent’s coaches had died earlier that week from a battle with cancer. Coach Green. I knew it was going to put a damper on an otherwise high-energy game, but I was powerless to change that.

Before the game, my daughter informed me that we were having a white out. That means everyone on our side of the field was supposed to wear white to support our school. The other team, whose colors are black and gold, was having a green out in memory of their departed coach. Despite our white out, however, everyone was asked to wear green somewhere as a sign of our respect. Most of the crowd complied. Along with our white shirts were green hats, green ribbons, green bandanas, green face paint… Anything to show our sympathies for their loss.

I was touched at the show of solidarity. These schools aren’t friendly rivals, they’re bitter rivals. And it warmed my heart to know those differences could be put aside in the face of a tragedy.

And then I saw the banner for our kids to run through upon entering the field.

Put Grove in the Grave.

With an RIP tombstone on it.

I was shocked. Horrified. Embarrassed.

I’m sure that banner was made before our school learned about Coach Green. At least, I hope so. What I didn’t understand was why it wasn’t changed.

Were we too short of funds to make another one?

Were we too short on time?

Too proud of the creativity of the slogan to change it?

Just too lazy to bother?

Or were we completely oblivious to how painful that sign would be to anyone who knew the coach?

I’m not sure why that sign was used in the game. I don’t even know if I care. But I do know it was wildly inappropriate and totally undid any bridge-building we had done by wearing green. And it didn’t have to be that way.

School spirit is a good thing. Compassion is a wonderful thing. But when mixed with laziness or complacency or hubris, it’s a terrible combination. It would be better to show none of these things than all of them. (click to tweet this sentiment)

For Writers:
It’s so easy to write characters who are flat, uninspired, one-dimensional. Characters who are stereotypes and clichés because we forget to add in other emotions and reactions. We’re cautioned against that all the time. We typically are told to consider motivation and give our characters unexpected character traits to make them seem more realistic.

The solution IS NOT to add two such diametrically opposed traits that they completely conflict with each other. Which is the real emotion? The real motivation?

How are we supposed to get to know a character when his actions are 180 degrees from what is logical?

Be careful when you develop your characters. A situation like the one above could be used to show a passive-aggressive personality, or to show someone’s thoughtlessness. But most often, it will just confuse your readers.

Remember, reality doesn’t always make good fiction. (click to tweet that)

For Everyone:
I like to believe that people are inherently kind and good (like the wearing of the green was supposed to show). I know people can be mean, but in this case I’d like to think it was just oversight that caused the faux pas. Maybe we could all be a little more considerate, though, and a little more careful.

I know after seeing that banner, I made a resolution to think things through better.

So what do you think? Why was that the banner at the game? Why do your characters do the things they do? Let’s talk about it.


4 Responses

  1. Staci in hindsight of losing the coach I would have cringed at this as well. Although as a writer it is good fodder to show how unthinking some people or a group can be. Life is shocking and unpredictable too and we don’t have much control over many situations. As a writer you notice things others may just brush aside. I like to think most people have good in them too.

    • I really hope it was just careless oversight. I just know that when you’re grieving, carelessness can hurt more than other times. I’m still carrying this cringe-worthy event with me.

  2. I don’t blame you. I would have cringed when I saw the banner. Where is our compassion? Perhaps no one gave it a second thought when they decided to bring the banner. As far as writers, unless a character is bipolar, we need to be careful how we portray them. If we go back and forth on the character traits, we’ll lose our audience.

    • My husband and I did cringe, Joan. For the seemingly endless time before the banner was broken through, and for several minutes afterward.

      And I agree with you. I’ve read too many unintentionally bipolar characters. Maybe it would be nice to write a real one…

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