In one of my Twitter posts, I commented that if you believe in grace, then God must have believed in Character arc. That’s probably true. This post is about character, but also about people and how fiction and the real mirror each other.
Regardless, it’s struck me again today how all humans are basically the same, wherever you go, whatever you do, whoever you meet. And the same is true for characters in novels. The truth of character and character traits is valid for life and vice versa. We all have the same spectrum of emotions, of agendas or goals, of desires and wants, of ways of thinking that are valid and not so valid. What we are is human, and there’s a lesson or at least food for thought in the way that those same character traits that are assigned to fiction characters are analogous to real people in real life.
One of the keys in real life or real fiction is that we don’t comprehend why the character or person does what they do, without reading the whole novel, and sometimes not even then. How could we? But we can try to understand, both our similarities and our differences, by applying what we know about ourselves and other people’s stories to any story that we are exposed to–not that this means we will fully comprehend but that we have a better chance of doing so.
What I’m saying is that you take a basic proposed character for a story, and you give that character traits, usually traits that will most effectively resonant with the theme that you want to “illustrate” or give breath to, in your story, from a grouping of possible character traits. Those traits are simply traits, tacked on to the essential character, a cardboard representation of a person, until that stereotype or archetype gets filled out with those good AND bad character traits which make the character more real to us.
Those traits could be anything, from race to religion to hair color to skin color. From occupation to favorite pasttimes to ways of dealing with conflict. Some of those things, like ways of dealing with conflict, are keys to who we are, to the essential person. Some are just window dressing. But it does just come down to the fact the we ARE all the same, regardless of whether we are blonde or red-haired or black or Asian or white or Christian, Jewish or Muslim.
And because we are basically all the same, that means our civilizations and countries and organizations–all are basically the same too. Each has done good and bad. Each has had some kind of Group Think that leads to some kind of wrong-doing or some kind of real and lasting good. Each has similar faults, which is why people can write books that speak of how, in general, this (whatever it is) is how it is, and this is why such and such should be done instead. But each culture or country has done something not so good, each has been guilty of some kind of genicide, of some kind of terrorism, of some kind of greed or irresponsibility–some more, some less, some now, some in the past, and some most likely in the future.
What is good is that we, like the characters in our novels, can grow and change, become more, in order to deal with the obstacles that are presented to us, obstacles to our goals. But we are still essentially the same. Some people like to emphasize the differences, for good and bad. Some like to emphasize the similarities, for good or bad. Some people get caught up in thinking a group is either all bad or that they must be all good…otherwise it’s prejudice, but that’s just another form of prejudice. No group–or person–is either all bad or all good.
I think we should emphasize and value both our similarities and our differences–as we do with any fictional character, hero, heroine or villain. That’s why we don’t write unsympathetic protagonists, because no one wants to read about them, and because they really don’t exist. Not that we should value badness. But only our perceptions of them exist or change, depending on what we know about them, how they are presented to us–or come presented to us or how those created preconceptions have blinded us sometimes to who people are, either a character or a real person. Our differences are tests, they are our obstacles to our potential–as both ourselves, and our countries and our world, could be thought of as the hero in our story.
Because we have those basic similarities and differences, we are mirrors of each other–all of us. Some recent readings come to mind here, when I think of mirrors. I’ve been reading “Wired for Story” by Lisa Cron, that one section about how we have “mirror neurons” that allow us to “experience” what other people experience, either by empathizing or by reading about other people/characters in story. [There is much more to it than that, but you’ll have to read the book.] So perhaps our basic wiring should give us hope, that in writing or reading our stories, especially the ones that most resonate with our most inner selves, we grow in both our understanding of others but also of ourselves, and perhaps that will lead us–all of us–to valuing both our differences and our similarities. It is only in those differences and similarities–what we are–that we will find the way as humans, as a country, as readers and writers and thus, as heroes or heroines in our own stories.
So this is my Christmas blog. Grace and character arc…birth, beginnings, potential, growth, conflict, resolution. Maybe I’ve said too little about too much or not enough. I certainly haven’t said everything I could say, or everything there is to say. Thoughts?