I don't know about you, but I like the characters in the stories I read to seem like real people. Realistic characters have strengths and weaknesses, they talk in everyday language, they joke with their friends. A story can have an interesting plot, gripping suspense, life lessons, but if the characters don't seem like real people, the story is less effective. "Heights," by Jaida Johnson, age 12, in the November/December 2013 issue of Stone Soup, paints a portrait of two friends who seem very real.
Addie and Conner have been best friends for a long time. That's clear from the easy way they have of bantering with each other. Addie teases Conner mercilessly about his fear of heights. Then she reveals a softer side when she sees how scared Conner really is. "Don't worry, we only have ten rungs left," she says. Conner's sense of humor comes across in his thoughts, such as this one: "My mom would be so proud. Oh, wait—I snuck out of the house past curfew, climbed up an old water tower, and was now praying it didn't fall down. I don't think she'd be too proud. Win some, lose some."
Just when we think Addie is so brave, nothing can ruffle her feathers, the tables are turned. Suddenly Conner is teasing Addie about her fear of drowning. "Hey, Adds, wanna go to the pool tomorrow?" Now that we know these two so well, we know that Addie's final words, "Oh, shut up," aren't meant to be mean. It's just the way real friends talk to each other, friends who are comfortable with one another and whose friendship runs deep. Isn't it amazing how Jaida was able to bring Addie and Conner to life for us in just over two pages? Because we believe the story, we also learn a lot, about friendship, adventure, and overcoming fears.