One of my many challenges practicing creative writing has been writing character…writing a character who is not me. One who does not sound like me, does not think like me, and bounces gracefully against a protagonist who seems more like me, but also isn’t me. I’m trying to figure it out…how to write character better.
I have thought the difficulty has related to my own imaginative ability, or rather, my inability. Can I “play” someone else on the page? Many writing days I conclude with a definitive no. But the heart of it is, writing character requires a lot of work…a lot of writing about a character to get to know them…writing that will never make it into a story, but nevertheless will inform the story by letting me know how my character is likely to behave in a given situation….and more importantly, understanding the reasons for that behaviour. It requires I move through exercises of questioning, reflecting, understanding, and entertaining possibilities beyond my comfort zone to learn what that space is like. And it’s work. Hard mental work. And often research…a rabbit hole of distraction I’m far more comfortable tumbling down.
And I can’t help but see a connection.
The current uprising against police brutality and systemic racism has made me think a lot about the work I need to do myself, to question my own beliefs, to check myself, my thinking. It’s slowly dawning… it takes a great deal of intention and sustained commitment to stop and consider other points of view, other experiences, other histories, other cultures, the destructive effects of violence, war, poverty, injustice. It requires I enter a space of discomfort and enter into active dialogue to work and question and sit cross legged with sorrow and hate and greed and anger and welcome these conversations.
I fall too easily into a position of defense. I want to write here: I’m compassionate! I’m empathetic! I want to explain how I read avidly, across genres and authors, to actively participate in a process of broadening my mind, challenging how I think about sex, identity, ethnicity, gender, culture, poverty, and yes, race. In my professional life, I work to change policy to promote health and wellness in our community; I work to promote equality and equity. So why do I use the word “defense”, I ask myself? Unpacking this makes my skin prickle, makes me admit my privilege: I have choice; I have freedom…I have time to read! And therefore, I am in a position of power over others who do not.
And with power comes responsibly. Responsibility to be an active witness, an active listener to the stories of others, and use my imagination and my position to create a different way of doing things.
And instead of being strong, I think it’s important to be soft, tender, and vulnerable…the true way to remain open.