I was writing my post about examining characters earlier this month, and another thought kept popping into my head while I was writing. Do you ever have that happen? It’s distracting, and a little annoying, though it gave me an idea for this follow up post.
As I sometimes sit and people watch, thinking about them as characters in their own stories, I start thinking about myself and my story. I think about how I got to where I’m at, the people who have come and gone in my life. As I study the characters around me in my life and the characters in my writing, I also study myself. What are my reactions to things, compared to how I think others would react? As I think about that woman’s motivation to go running this morning on a cold, rainy day, what is my motivation for sitting here staring out the window at the rain?
Maybe it’s being a little too analytical, but I can’t help it. I think all writers need a healthy amount of self-reflection. It’s hard to examine everything around you for inspiration and not end up examining yourself, as well.
The real problem is when I recognize how flawed I am and think, “Oh, crap. Why did I just do that? What the hell is wrong with me?”
Everyone needs a healthy dose of self critique, as well, though it’s easy to then get into your own head and start thinking worse things about yourself. It can end up being a self-deprecating spiral of doubt, worries and other feelings that aren’t needed in your life. No one is perfect, though it’s hard to remember that sometimes.
That being said, the most interesting characters aren’t the perfect ones. The ones that stick in your mind long after finishing a book, that you relish thinking about and reading more about, are ones that are human. They have flaws, and make mistakes, and you root for them all the more.
One of my favorite books growing up was Crown Duel by Sherwood Smith. In it, the main character is very human. She makes mistake after mistake (though always with the best intentions). She misjudges people and situations. She has a tendency to look at things with a distrustful eye, and finds it hard to forgive when she’s made to feel like a fool (or thinks she has). She’s also very brave, and wants what’s best for her family and her country.
When Smith was writing her as a character, she showed all her flaws. She also didn’t scrimp on details of how things really looked. When there was fighting, things weren’t pretty (though she wasn’t gory, by any means.) When Mel cried, it was a real, sobbing cry, with tears, puffy eyes, hiccuping intakes of breath, and everything that normal people go through when they have a good cry. There’s no Hollywood crying here, where the woman still looks gorgeous even though she’s crying.
Smith made it real, and I appreciated that. It’s one of the reasons I’ve gone back to this book and reread it multiple times. As I write, I try and remember how she created her characters, how their flaws make them real.
I’ll say it again: No One is Perfect. So I keep that in mind and keep writing.