“I write for the same reason I breathe—because if I didn’t, I would die,”
Bildungsroman is a German word meaning “formation novel.” It is a genre of a novel that focuses on the psychological and moral growth of a character from childhood to adulthood. It can be found in almost any novel from Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte to Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger to the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.
Throughout my writing career a lot of the stories I have focused on have followed the guide of bildungsroman. It’s not inevitable that a story will have that genre in it, but I feel that nine out of ten times it will. Most characters tend to grow throughout a story, but not all of them start as a child and end as an adult.
I can remember writing from a very young age. I used to go to a babysitter who encouraged me to write picture short stories (or short stories with badly drawn pictures depicting what was going on). When I began writing complete stories right away I was attracted to Fantasy and Science Fiction elements. In fifth grade I started a series on a group of superheroes who fought crime. The crime was generally committed by video game characters, and the general idea came from the movie “Mystery Men.” I enjoyed knowing that there were other worlds waiting to be discovered and explored. I wanted to discover those worlds and I wanted to allow others to explore them. Writing suddenly stopped for me when reading took over my life and became the new flame of my heart for a while.
An example of a fantasy bildungsroman is the Harry Potter series by J.K Rowling because it follows Harry’s life from when he is eleven until he turns seventeen. The reason why this series can be considered part of the bildungsroman genre is because Harry grows physically and mentally throughout the seven year series. At first he is just an innocent eleven year old, new to the wizarding world that has been hidden from him for the first ten years of his life. As the series goes on the subjects of love, racism, and death bring a mature perspective to the series.
Love starts out as the love of parents and children, but rapidly changes into the love between two teenagers as the books progress. Within the last two books hormones rage as the characters fall in and out of love with one another fairly quickly. When the first book starts racism is only touched on lightly with Harry’s aunt and uncle not liking wizards, but halfway through the series there is a type of World War II feel where the Death Eaters (the bad guys) are the Nazi’s and the muggles and muggle born wizards (non-magical people and wizards born to non-magical parents) are the Jews. Finally death hits home right from the beginning with the death of Harry’s parents. Before the story starts Harry parents are already dead and he is sent to live with his aunt and uncle. It’s a kind of death that Harry has to deal with, but might not affect him as much as if he grew up with his parents before they died. In the fourth book, the death of a classmate, Cedric Diggory, is the first real death of the series. After that, the death of Harry’s godfather in the fifth book shows Harry that he has no real home left, leaving him to grow up quickly in order to be able to handle to ordeal.
I started writing again the summer before high school. It started with a fantasy story about a fairy and a half-elf who have to save their world from an evil bent on destruction (this is a theme that still constantly pops up in my work). I never got farther than a few chapters with this story, but I knew how I wanted it to end. It was the middle part that got me. I finally got over this writers block when I switched over to fanfiction. Fanfiction is where you take the characters (and sometimes setting depending on where you want your story to take place) from a book and put them into your own story. While there are hundreds of types of fanfiction, I focused on one: Harry Potter. It was a series that I absolutely loved, where the characters were like my friends. I felt like I knew them so well, which is funny since the characters I used in my stories weren’t really in the books.
The Marauder’s were the older generation, i.e. Harry’s parents and their friends. Even though there were only a handful of scenes throughout the series where they were mentioned, they had a big following. Maybe it was because we didn’t know exactly what they were like or who they were. Where the characters already existed, in a way it was like creating our own because there was plenty of room to build. Yet, in every fanfiction author’s story, each character seemed to come off the same.
But I didn’t always stick to fantasy and fanfiction. Sometimes I traveled into the more normal realm of the teen novel, but the lack of fantasy elements made the experience less enjoyable. As high school was coming to a close, I began working on several pieces that just followed the daily lives of teenagers, but I couldn’t find anything more interesting than a bit of drama and an unplanned pregnancy. So, I gave up.
The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky is another book housed in the bildungsroman genre. The book is similar to Cather in the Rye by J.D Salinger, a book that the author was inspired by. Cather in the Rye is even listed in the story as a book that the main character, who’s alias is Charlie, is assigned by his English teacher to read. The book goes through the high school career of Charlie as he tells it to a “friend” through letters. It tells of his struggle with depression, being shy and introverted as he goes through high school as a wallflower, trying to make friends. This story shows the mental and psychological transition of Charlie as he discovers who he is.
It wasn’t until college that I found what I consider my first real story. The idea came to me in a dream, where I was climbing up a snowy mountain slope with a guy on our way to stop an evil force from destroying the world (there’s that theme again). The dream wasn’t even very long, but in the little that there was I knew exactly why I was there and exactly what I was doing. I woke up and began to plot out a story that mixed real life and fantasy, the perfect combination that accommodated both topics that I loved to write about.