Let your characters choose between right and wrong. See how they react in a situation. Sometimes they surprise you and they respect themselves far more than you think. Same in life, you have to let people choose to make the wrong decision. If you take away the chance for someone to choose between right and wrong one, they will never know if they were capable of making the right decision, and neither will you. Your mind will always wonder how bad they would have fucked up if you didn’t step in. You gotta let them be themselves. It gives them room to grow and trust themselves. Making mistakes is the most important part of growth.
So let’s just say we step back as writers after we place our character(s) into some fishy ass situation. Now we think from their past experience, do they know how to step away from something that will destroy their life? Have they learned yet to say no to self destructive behaviors? Are they constantly sneaking around and making bad choices? Why would this time be different? If you step in without thinking and don’t allow your characters to be honest with themselves, the future is going to become murky. The rest of the book will be built on this need for control that you have as a writer and you are going to have to delete the rest of the book and return to this point where you stepped in for your character. Which in turn doesn’t allow your character to be themselves but forces them to be what you want them to be.
Letting go doesn’t mean that you don’t care about someone anymore. It’s just realizing that the only person you really have control over is yourself.”— Deborah Reber
We want to be surrounded by people and characters who choose who they want to be because that allows them to be honest with us. When we surround ourselves with honesty it’s much easier to be honest with ourselves and grow into the person we were truly meant to be.
This means that your characters are going to do things that make you really upset. This means that you are going to have to forgive your characters. This means you’re going to have to have a healthy attachment to your characters. If they don’t piss you off, are you connected to your writing? If they piss you off to the point that you can no longer write their story in an honest way, is there something you’re hanging on to that’s hindering your inability to finish? These are questions we need to ask ourselves as writers within and outside of our stories.
Let people show you who they are. Let them write their own story. Let them destroy themselves. Let them become the hero of their own story. They might surprise you. They might disappoint you and do exactly what you thought. But either way they are going to grow from the experience. You are going to grow from watching them. They’ll show you who you don’t want to be or they’ll show you they are someone who you can truly admire.
Being an honest writer is about leading to the truth or at times, allowing yourself to be lead to the truth. Being an honest writer isn’t telling all the dirt about your character right off the bat or at all for that matter. It’s a guidance. It’s knowing what truths to tell. It’s knowing what truths you keep to yourself to gift others that marvelous feeling of expansion. It’s our duty as writers to allow uncertainty in some moments. Let them have that space where maybe just maybe, it might work out in the best or worst way possible.
I think we can apply this to our own lives too. There are times when calling people out in an innocent moment can be an act of pride rather than an act of love. Sometimes we jump the gun and spill all the ugly stuff without even getting to the stuff that leads them to the truth on their own. We have to let them stagger around a bit to figure out how some things in this world operate. The same goes for writing.
When we look at honesty this way, it becomes more of a tool. We can wield it around at times of distress or times of victory. We can use it as a reward or even as a punishment. There’s so many ways to use honesty as a tool of guidance. It can bludgeon. It can destroy, so use it wisely and when you do decide to use it, use it with confidence.
I’m what is called a pantser like Stephen King. I don’t outline the story ahead of time. But I do take time to stop and think or journal on where I’d like my characters to end up. Anyhow, my two characters, a woman and a man, are growing in separate places right now. The guy’s growth is far more interesting than the woman’s. In real life this normal since women mature at a younger age than men, but in writing is this ok? Should I find more balance? Should I be more deliberate about her growth? My only concern is that she will be unrealistic if I am too deliberate. Or am I over thinking and this is how characters grow in fiction.
Fiction writers, do you find this or do this intentionally. Like, give another character more spotlight? Maybe it’s her slow growth that makes him more interesting and vibrant? I’d love to hear your strategies.
“Integrity without knowledge is weak and useless, and knowledge without integrity is dangerous and dreadful.” – Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784), English Author, Poet, and Literary Critic and Writer
I had been thinking about the good guy vs the bad in a collection of short stories I’ve been working on, and I was reminded that in life no human is ever pure bad or pure good. What is most important when developing my characters is that I display my characters as their true selves. Whether they are good or bad doesn’t matter. As long as I display them as true as possible, they will make the choices themselves. The truth is we all teeter between being the good guy and the bad guy. And the gray area where we can’t seem to navigate is what makes us human.