It’s a funny thing about writing fiction. You have to be able to write from a point of view, personality, and situation other than your own. It would be pretty boring if a fiction writer were constrained to writing only themselves.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, because it is one of the things that makes writing so much fun for me. Imagining weird situations and interesting difficulties and inspiring responses is really cool, and is also why I like to read and watch really good stories.
But more than that, I think discovering the ability to think in a character’s point of view helps me grow as a person. It is really hard to put yourself into another person’s shoes in the real world, to understand why they do and believe things that I would not. Yet writing is the purest exercise in doing just that.
I’ve found that to write a character drastically different than myself, especially villains, I have to find that part of them that is understandable. Something that is, in all truth, part of myself. That way I can have compassion for them, even though what they do is strange or detestable or horrific.
And just to be clear, this has nothing to do with forcing approval or acceptance of those negative things – I do believe in clear right and wrong, and I’m a fan of fiction where people fight for what they believe in even when it is hard or complicated. I’m talking about finding a way to see past the detestable traits that make you want to put distance between yourself and the character, because this results in a very shallow and incomplete view.
Of course this is so much more important to attempt with real life people, otherwise harshness and judgement creep in, often in much more trivial and “gray” situations than occur in fiction.
I think the key to all this is recognizing the commonality between all people – and not always the “amazing beauty of humanity,” though there is some of that as well. We are made in God’s image, beloved and sought-after – that’s enough of a reason to respect one another.
But sometimes it’s more important to recognize the less popular commonality that comes from our fallen nature. We aren’t broken into “good people” and “bad people.” Those are false labels. It’s an easier way out, to point at someone and declare them evil or impossible to understand. I think that is part of the lie we tell ourselves, to help us feel more comfortable and to deny the darkness within.
But if I can get past the denial or pride or horror to find that dark place that identifies with even the worst actions people can take, I gain something precious. That knowledge of shared darkness is what lets me understand. It gives me certainty that no one is beyond saving, and allows me to access (and sometimes use) things like compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness – things that bless me just as much as they bless others.
So, in a weird way, I’m forced to appreciate my own failings and darkness. Otherwise, there would be no reason or ability to practice those skills, and I’d miss out on the blessing.