Previously I wrote how I feel that people often do not want the level of honesty they ask for. Often our friends and family claim they want absolute honesty from us, but if we give it, despite being gentle, it backfires. I recognize this isn’t always the case, but it is something that appears to happen quite frequently. For us writers, feedback is essential to our business. We need to know if our stories and characters are relatable to our audience. Honesty of people also plays a role in characterization. Characters are believable based on their interactions with each other and the world around them in the story.
It is difficult when you spend months or years crafting a tale and making it available to the public. Will readers enjoy it? Will your audience connect to the characters as well as you have? Just as we ask for honesty in our relationships, us writers should not only ask for, but accept honest feedback when it comes. When we put so much of ourselves into a book, we must fight our urge to get defensive when someone doesn’t react the way we would like. A book an author has written is like his child, but that doesn’t mean we should dismiss any criticism.
Sometimes though readers simply miss the point or bring their own presuppositions to your novel and that taints their experience. Sometimes there are things us authors can do to remedy that, but usually not. For my first short story I got feedback that it needed more to the story, but that was at a time when both sequels were published and “more” was already available. Some of my feedback, especially with the first book, was a little disappointing but incredibly valuable. Everyone will form an opinion on your works, that is inevitable, and like all opinions, discernment must be utilized.
In order for authors to create well-rounded characters they must be familiar with real people and themselves. Honesty, and how people react to it is a key component to crafting characters. How well will the cast within the story respond to honesty? Do some prefer lies? No? Why not? There are many people in the real world that do. These are things that we must ponder. Not only though how a character responds to honesty, but why do they react in a certain way? This is where my observations on honesty in the last post ties together with my writing. I hope that as I continue to learn about others and myself I am able to better hone my writing skills.
How often do you hear people say the would prefer you be honest and tell them a problem to their face than talk to someone else about it? Another scenario might be a friend or relative irritates you for awhile but you keep it to yourself, but once the truth comes out they react poorly while at the same time saying you should have said something sooner. Perhaps another situation may be when a friend’s behavior is concerning and you bring it up right away because that friend has claimed for years they value honesty, but when you approach them they do not take it well. You may employ every bit of tact and gentleness at your disposal, but still the friend blows up and hurls accusations at you. Most people who are older than elementary age have experienced this. People say they want honesty, but how many really do?
This blog is in no way justifying or advocating lying. It is merely my unscientific observation that many times people cannot handle the level of honesty they ask for. It is human nature to want to be liked and when we find out someone has an issue with us, even if it is valid, our natural instinct is to build up a defensive wall. Ideally, by the time someone reaches adulthood, that person should be able to take constructive criticism without getting defensive and hurling accusations. Unfortunately, this appears to be the exception, not the rule.
Does this mean we should shirk away from telling someone we have an issue? Not at all. It simply means we need to condition ourselves to care less what people think. We should always show gentleness, kindness, and love to others. However, if someone reacts poorly to the truth than it is their problem not yours. A friend should listen, and if they do not calm down and try to see your point of view then that reflects more on them than you. If your issue is untrue or based on an assumption then you should show maturity as well and admit it. Ultimately, an issue never gets resolved if it isn’t discussed.
Now what does this have to do with writing? Characterization and feedback are the two answers. I will go into greater detail on that in the next post.
There is a trend lately I’ve noticed. Perhaps it’s been this way for a long time, but it didn’t start to grab my attention until about five years ago. I don’t know if it is the hypersensitive culture we now live in that’s contributing or not, but it appears that individual characters in fiction are viewed as representing a whole group. An example, someone I used to know made the comment he doesn’t like the show Home Improvement because Tim Taylor is aloof and a bad example of a husband, father, and a man in general. That assessment may be true, but that isn’t the point. Tim’s character isn’t supposed to represent all men it is an exaggeration of what some men might be like, or more specifically these are traits specific to his character that are hyperbolic due to the comedy genre.
I have come across countless critiques like this where someone will complain about a character poorly representing women, the LGBT, religion, race, or anything you can think of. There may be certain isolated incidents where this complaint is warranted due to shady motivations from the writer. However, unless there is evidence to support that the writer is using a character to propel stereotypes, that shouldn’t be assumed.
The personality traits of my characters reflect on them alone. If a woman has a weakness that doesn’t mean I think all women are weak or need to be saved by men. If there is a male character in my books that is a little dull that doesn’t mean I think men are dull or can only survive if a woman is there to prop him up.
Fiction, if done right, should not be afraid to have a variety of characters and the personalities of the individuals in the story do not necessarily reflect on a greater whole.
Recently, I heard powerful testimonies from a few people who endured several hardships. It got me thinking about characterization in fiction. We as reader’s demand that the characters grow and change over the course of a story. That’s what makes characters relatable and intriguing. On the other hand, we have all known people who remain pretty much the same throughout their entire lives. They maintain the same behavior as they did in high school or earlier, even well into their fifties and beyond.
These people who would be labeled as “static” characters in fiction may have children, have gotten married, maintain a home and mortgage, but still excessively party and have an immature black and white view of the world. Especially with all the explosive controversies arising lately. I have seen people from older generations have an “agree with me or you are evil” perspective. Now, I understand I’m only getting a small glimpse of these people’s lives on the internet, but there are writings and social media posts from some folks that maintain a similar theme, “I’m right and everyone else is wrong.” There are of course, issues that should be black and white, but immature virtue signaling that appears to be all too prevalent.
I heard a quote, “If you aren’t growing you are either stagnant or regressing.” That means if we are not actively seeking out growth than we are at very least staying the same. It is entirely plausible to have a story of static characters and have it be “realistic.” That would not be an engaging tale that most wouldn’t finish. We expect growth and change from fictional characters, but what if we held ourselves to the same expectation? In the real world, true well-rounded people who are constantly growing sometimes seems like the exception. Imagine if that was the case in fiction? Everyone would undoubtedly be bored. It is easy to fall into the rut of routine of work, bills, and general numb feeling to the day to day life. I challenge myself and those reading this to work toward growing a little every day.