The more I grow as a writer, the more I long to create rich and complex characters in my fiction work.
Have you ever read an author whose books keep you hooked but whose main protagonists/antagonists always sound the same? Maybe their voices are so alike that you keep confusing them in your mind with a character of their last book? Or maybe you’re reading a book told from multiple points of view (my favorite kind to write! We all see the world so differently!) but you can’t pick that book up in the middle of the chapter without flipping backwards to remind yourself who you’re reading about?
I want you to know who I’m talking about. I want you to feel, when you’re reading what I’m writing, that this guy had a hard childhood you don’t know about or that this girl has clearly got some pretty amazing resolve. I want you to flip the book open, immediately know which character’s chapter you’ve flipped to, and realize 20 minutes later that you were supposed to be tidying up or finding a different book to loan to a friend.
The best way to do this, as all the greats always seem to say, is to people-watch. And so I do. I watch all the people God created and I seriously marvel at The Master Writer’s work.
He wrote me into existence with lots of strengths… and also lots of weaknesses. He made perfectly imperfect so I could always need and reach out for him, always have just as much to learn as I have to teach. He wrote me into existence with a rich backstory filled with both joy and pain, and wrote me into a life that would give me all kinds of opportunities to exercise those strengths and strengthen those weaknesses. He did the same for you, but with a totally different set of experiences and traits and qualities.
The more I delve into this, into the art of creating believable and compelling characters, the more I see the beauty in all people. All of them! It’s kind of amazing. I see the beauty in my marriage, in the amazing ways we complement and contrast and strengthen and challenge each other. It feels right. It feels good. I would say we’re one of those couples with a maybe unbelievably “great” marriage, and I think a big part of it is that we both admire and honor all of our differences just as much as we admire and honor all of our likenesses. I see the beauty in my four very different children in the very same way.
I see it in my friendships. I see Mandy, Nicole, Deonna, Ryan’s aunts and cousins, and the many different ways we all relate to each other. I see all this beauty when I talk to my parents and my grandparents, to my in-laws and our pediatrician, when I read the group texts my aunts and cousins include me in. I see so many reasons God put these amazing people into my life… and me into theirs. And I am so, so grateful.
I am seeing so much beauty and intrigue each time I talk to one of our librarians, each time the UPS driver drives up to deliver another review book, each time the vegetarian grocery cashier scans a few pounds of meat for me with a kind voice and a smile on her lips.
I can’t stop seeing all these people I’m surrounded by and respecting their tenacity. Life can be really hard, can’t it? It can be so painful at times. It can be physically painful, emotionally painful, and both at the same time. Sometimes our wounds don’t heal right and they never stop hurting. Sometimes we feel lost or stuck, generally confused. Still, we keep trying. We keep hoping. We keep pushing through.
The Master Writer, the one I most hope to learn from, has truly perfected the art of storytelling. He’s created drug addicts with beautiful souls. He’s created admirable qualities in the Obamas and the Bushes, the Clintons and the Trumps. Even when I don’t agree with their choices or don’t identify with a cause they’re championing, I can still step back and see them the way I believe their author sees them. He sees the cute freckles he lovingly placed and the laugh that brightens up his day. He sees the deep desire to make the world a better place (whether or not their vision lines up with our own ideas of what that better place actually looks like), a deep love for their family, a big heart for animals or children or the elderly. He sees all the pain they’ve walked through and he sees all the hearts they’ve helped mend. He sees their secret struggles and their secret passions, their gift for music or art or all things athletic.