Sunday, April 09, 2006

Back to Life

Okay, back to writing about life. Sort of. As I often say, I don’t think writing and life can be separated if you’re a writer and today’s post is no exception.

No doubt you’re surprised to see two posts so close together from me but things are about to get a bit hectic. In part, that’s because I’m going to deal with some...challenging people in my life. Affection, love, and exasperation sometimes come all mixed together. We can love someone dearly and yet know we can’t be with them—for everyone’s sake involved. Or we want to see people we care about but circumstances don’t allow us to do so and sometimes it’s tempting to tell ourselves we don’t want to so that we don’t miss them so much. Today’s post is about seeing people—really seeing them.

All of us see life through the filter of past experiences AND the things people we trusted have said over the years. In addition, it’s human nature to want things to be clear cut. That means that we tend to see people as good or bad. If someone has hurt us, we may be reluctant to acknowledge that they may have been good to us, at times, as well. And if they are sometimes wonderful to us, we may be reluctant and it may take us a long time to acknowledge that sometimes they are horribly destructive as well.

What I’d like to suggest today is that it’s powerful—both in real life and as writers—to step back and really try to see people we know as they are, setting aside all our past filters, all our past experiences, all our past perceptions about a given person.

I believe that within every person is good. I believe that all harm comes out of a given person’s fears and self-doubts. That’s been true in my life even when the harm has been the most extreme. If we allow ourselves to see that, it can be transformative and help us move past those hurts to create a new and healthier relationship with that person—especially in situations where we cannot entirely or do not want to entirely cut that person out of our lives. And even if we do need to walk away entirely, it can keep us from holding onto anger that would otherwise be destructive to US.

It’s very powerful to look past the obvious to see what we may never have noticed or understood or let ourselves see before. It’s powerful to look at characters we are creating and ask ourselves what we don’t know about them as well. If we do, our characters will be more multi-dimensional and interesting to readers. A villain who is all evil is boring. So is a hero who is all good. Showing the other side of each—hero and villain—makes for a much more compelling story.

As many of you know, I have a son with Down Syndrome. He also has behavioral problems. As I deal with him soon, I will be trying to look at him with new eyes to see if there is a new way to reach him. I will be trying to put myself in his place and understand why he does what he does. I don’t know if I will be able to have an impact on those behavior issues, especially because I’ll be on his home turf, rather than mine, but I will try and at the very least, perhaps the impact of this visit will be different for ME, regardless of the impact on him.

So whether you are dealing with challenging people in your life or a writer wanting to create compelling characters, try asking yourself: What don’t I know about this person? What other way to see or interpret this person’s words and actions could there be? How can I connect to whatever is the greatest good within this person?

If you are working on creating a character, ask yourself: What is this character’s greatest flaw? What are this character’s self-doubts and fears and how does he or she react when someone triggers any of these? What is the good within this character? How does he or she perceive him or herself? How does that image vary from what others see? Do the character’s words match his or her actions? If not, why not? Who does the character WANT to be?

Writing and life are inextricably intertwined for writers. What we learn from one can help us with the other. How will you see the people in your life and the characters you create differently this week?