First an apology! I am so sorry to my blog audience that I didn't call, so to speak. Balancing the demands over the holidays threw me a bit. And although the barrista told me everyone deserves a vacation, I promise to let you know next time I plan to take one:>)
So, my overhear today made me sad for the guy, but also a little annoyed at his tone of dejection. The fact is.... I don't actually believe anymore that life is that simple. Sometimes people don't do what we expect for reasons we can't even contemplate. Assuming we know what someone is thinking is the same as believing they are exactly the same as us.
The reason I know this is because I have done it many times in my life. I have lived so deeply in my own head that I stopped giving any credence to individuality. Interestingly, being forced to create unique characters was something that showed me how mistaken I could be. When I write I constantly ask myself why would this character do something or say something (or not say something). And, because I am the one making it up I don't have to check it to see that it is true.
Life, though, is not always so easy. When I am faced with a spouse who is having a bad day, a child who won't talk after school, a grocery store clerk who throws my groceries into my bag instead of placing them nicely, it is very easy for me to project my own reasons onto them. Oh, I think, my spouse is mad that I didn't finish the dishes, someone must have been mean to my daughter, the clerk must be mad that I packaged all my apples in separate plastic bags (don't ask). I create my own version of their reality and stop living in the world as it exists for them.
And, at first this type of over-analysis may have helped me with my writing; after all, it wasn't much of a leap to take what was already going on in my head and give it to made up characters. Many people advise writers to write what they know; but I believe this can be a trap for writers. It flattens our writing and makes every story end up sounding the same.
So, as my writing grew, and I found my characters beginning to react in the same way over and over, I realized something was wrong. This made me question my world view in general (well, that and the fact that my husband has a wonderfully different way of seeing the world which frequently challenges my own beliefs).
I researched ways to write characters better and found some useful tools for pushing beyond my preset ideas for motivations. One of the best of these I have heard repeated by a number of authors/speakers. Create two or three characters: ex. 40 year old, female, stay-at-home mom; 18 year old, male, 7-11 clerk; 50 year old, male, finance broker. Then mix-up their ages and professions and re-examine their motivations in light of their new profile. Ex. how would the mom react to a teenager who is trying to buy alchohol. What if the 18 year old male is the stay-at-home dad, though. How would someone like that react? Or, what if the mom is the store clerk? What would she do?
Tools that force us to question our assumptions can be very powerful in writing, but even more powerful in real life. Because, although it is possible that the girl in the overheard quote didn't want to call, it is just as possible that she had a huge fight with her mother and lost her phone privileges. Maybe the fight was even over him... maybe she wanted to give him a really special holiday gift but her mom found out and didn't want her to invest so much in a teenage relationship.... maybe....
Now, my creative writing is obviously calling!