You might have noticed my posts having a bit of a theme lately.
The fighting. The opinions. The I-am-right-and-you-are-wrong of how we interact with one another, especially when we are safely ensconced behind our keyboards, has been constantly on my mind.
I’m so tired of fighting. I’m so tired of witnessing the fighting. It hurts to scroll through social media and see that someone I love has posted something that mocks and degrades an opinion or decision or belief that is part of me. I don’t mind if people disagree with me. Not at all. I want those around me to be awake and form their own opinions and make their own choices based on their experience, what they know, what they value. Of course you won’t make all the same decisions as I do. That’s because we’ve lived different lives, and I am doing my best to respect the lives that people have lived and to try to understand them. Which of course goes back to the idea of letting people tell their story.
But what about when you’re confused by decisions that people make and there’s no opportunity to ask them to clarify? How can we reconcile someone holding an opinion when everything we’ve seen and experienced tells us that it’s the wrong decision? Are they just idiots? Maybe they’re just stubborn and mean and blind and wrong.
Maybe. But even if one or more of those things are true, there are also reasons.
In writing, whenever your character does something, it needs to be done with intent. There needs to be an underlying reason or motivation for their actions. This is one of those things that will drive readers crazy when authors get it wrong, because if an author is just sticking a character in a situation and making them do the thing for reasons of plot without giving them the proper motivation, it feels off. It jars the reader from the story as they wonder what the hey is going on with the character. There’s no reason for that character to make that decision. Everything we know about Sally so far has led us to believe that she wouldn’t just quietly agree to hand over the enchanted book. Sally has been protecting it for more than half the book, and she’s just giving it up without a fight? No, we need motive. So then if we know that Sally has a little brother who will die if she doesn’t do what Mr. Villain says, then we can get on board. She has her reasons, and while we might think that saving one life isn’t worth an entire nation dying, we can at least see that for her, it is worth it.
Unfortunately, we can’t read the inner dialogue of those around us, so we’re left to wonder about their motivation, and often be confounded by what could convince them to make that decision, to support that cause, to be on the anti side of this debate and the pro side of that issue.
May I suggest that the answer to all of those question is REASONS.
She’s anti-gun because she experienced a mass shooting. He’s pro-life because he and his wife can’t have a baby of their own. She chose not to vaccinate because a vaccine paralyzed her nephew.
At the same time:
He’s pro-gun because an intruder nearly killed his mother. She’s pro-choice because there was no way for her baby to survive and if they hadn’t ended the pregnancy, she wouldn’t have survived either. He chose to vaccinate because his family member suffered through that disease.
They all have their reasons, and we can disagree with them all we want, but we can’t pretend that everyone else is wrong and only our experiences and choices are valid.
Now, of course there are outliers. People with ill intent, people who just want to argue, people who just want to hate. But even those people got that way somehow. Did they choose it? Some of them might have. Or were they taught it and just don’t know how to break down what they’ve spent years learning? Unlearning cultural norms and society rules is HARD.
This, by the way, is the way to write good villains. Villains are much more powerful when their motives make sense. If you create a villain who is a terrible person because they like being a terrible person…okay. That’s a nice cardboard cut-out, but readers want all characters to be three-dimensional.
Maybe that’s a good way to think of people as well. In this world where we stare at a screen and see the two-dimensional or even one-dimensional representation of people, we have to keep in mind that what we see isn’t all of them. We are all made up of multiple dimension, countless layers, myriad experiences, failures, pains, and triumphs. We are made up of the bullies that whispered in our ears, the parents that cheered us on, the love that broke our heart, the hard choices foisted upon us. It’s all there in a tangled mess that few people are going to look close enough to see, much less comprehend.
So I hope we can all move forward with grace. That we can all offer mercy, extend a hand of understanding and the gift of forgiveness. And just as important, I hope that we can accept those things from others.