For Writers, How Life Informs Craft

How Life Informs Craft: People We Admire

If you missed my first post explaining what this series is about, check it out HERE.

Event

It is easy to admire people, but what about when they do something we dislike?

There is a particular woman in my life that I admire greatly. She is strong, wise, kind, funny, and an awesome person to be around. The other day, I overheard someone recalling a memory of her and I imagined what her response would be like if she had overheard it. This has happened in the past, and she always acts, with an air of confidence and calm, as if she remembers the particular moment vividly, as if it was a defining moment of her life. I doubted that this was always the case, however, and I soon began to realize a few things.

First, that she often acted in that borderline arrogant way when people talked about her interesting past deeds. Second, it sometimes made me feel uncomfortable to see her act that way, but I never could place why. From that, I realized that I was uncomfortable at moments like that because although I admired her, her reaction to those instances I didn’t admire.

Three Takeaways

Expert blind spot

This is a term used in education, and many fields, I’m sure, that describes that moment when a teacher is so used to understanding a concept or text that they can’t even realize that their own students don’t understand it. A critical learning step that is overlooked by the teacher and is a hurdle in the understanding of the student. This applies to this situation because often times, when we admire or care for someone, we have a tendency to diminish ignore and sometimes even justify things that we don’t even realize we are doing. This is because we care about that person and hold them on a certain level of esteem. We fail to even realize that they are just as human as we are, just as prone to bouts of pride and sin, just like the rest of us.

When we write, we need to consider our own expert blind spots. This can take many forms. From the world, magic system, characters, or specialty terms that we use, there are a ton of potential hurdles that our readers may come up against and that prevent them from moving on and grasping the larger story. I say this, but know that there is definitely a delicate balance that needs to be struck here. For example, if you are incredibly interested in aviation, you may inadvertently use terms about aircrafts and the different gauges and things that need to be used on each and every flight, without ever offering an explanation of how they are relevant to the story. On the flip side, you may also go into so much incredible and precise detail that you lose all sight of the story for paragraphs or even pages, instead reverting to a textbook like format. Neither of these is a good thing, so just keep in mind that you have expert blind spots, and maybe ask your betas to look for certain things to help you identify them.

Flaws are universal

While this may seem pretty straight forward, it is sometimes a difficult reality to grasp. Especially in real life, when those that we love are actually vain or proud or spiteful or negative, it is sometimes hard to attach a negative characteristic to him/her/them because we want to keep them in that positive light that we had always regarded them as. However, this is wholly unrealistic. Everyone has flaws, everyone has secrets, everyone has something they do without even realizing it.

When writing our characters, it is very easy to fall into the trap of good and evil. But we also know that that just isn’t realistic. Try to make every character, even those that are secondary or one-off characters (those only there for a scene) come to life on the page by having them protect something, hide something, fight for something, or display some kind of fault or flaw that is relevant to the situation. It will make them more realistic and relatable.

Flaws aren’t always deal breakers

Just because I noticed this stuff about the woman in my life doesn’t make me like her any less. Just because the people we care about have flaws and we finally realize it doesn’t mean we don’t still care about them, or admire them any less. Sometimes it does, depending on what it is that you find out about them, but a lot of times, especially for those that we keep closest to us, we make allowances for these people because we learn the “why” behind the “what” or just because we come to see them as more human than we saw them before.

Depending on what your characters go through, they will each have their own flaws and deal-breakers. Try to keep this in mind. You will have morally gray characters who don’t mind that their new friend has a tainted past. Then, there are those that will not bend no matter what the “why” is for someone’s actions. These can be great points of conflict to build into your story or even focus your story on.

2 thoughts on “How Life Informs Craft: People We Admire”

  1. I struggle with the morality end of things with my fictional characters. It’s hard to find that gray area where he/she could do something unlikeable but still be likeable–because I think we all have different measures as to what is an “unlikeable” act or behavior. One of my beta readers got on me a little bit because my protagonist lied to get something he wanted. She had a really hard time liking him after that. I didn’t change it. I feel like we have to leave our personal druthers out of our critiques (and even when we read for pleasure) and just be there in service of the story. Great post!

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    1. I totally agree! I think that showing that our characters aren’t just “good” or “bad” gives them depth and allows our readers to develop complex feelings towards them. It also helps do what, I think, writing is meant for and that is to build connections to real life and allow us to connect to each other through characters, even or especially those who fall in that gray area.

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