Characters and Writing

Sometimes I wish just once that humans were like characters in a book. Connecting with them would be so much easier. I’d know what their motives were. I’d understand their back story. I’d realize their dreams and hopes and fears so I could always have the perfect conversation, say the perfect things, respond in the perfect way. I could read their minds.

Characters give us such insight into their world. The things they describe, the situations they think about, show us who they are in an intimate way. Even the things they don’t say and do give us a picture of who they are. We can read characters as they are presented to us. We don’t have to guess much, even about the stuff written between the lines. We just get it.

Humans, on the other hand, are a mystery in real life. They tell us odd things, show us odd perspectives, and sometimes, give us brief glimpses into who they are without actually telling us in words.

As a writer, words are important to me. I try to use them with precision, like a tool but also with drama, like a paintbrush. Writing is art, after all, just like music or sculpture or painting. But try as I might, I still can’t manage to use words in such a way that leaves nothing unsaid. Those spaces between the lines sometimes glare like an explosion.

But for all the light and knowledge, I still can’t figure out the meaning when it happens in real life.

I recently asked a friend something, expecting a simple answer. But despite using a lot of words, they never answered me.  They told me a lot, but they never answered the question I asked.

I was puzzled. They stood to gain a lot and lose nothing with an honest answer, but they chose something else. I didn’t push it. I backed off. I would never purposely embarrass this friend. I adore them and respect them and love what they bring to my life. They make my life better and richer for knowing them.

The situation made me realize that sometimes those spaces between the words aren’t as cut and dry as we’d like to think they are. I could speculate all day about why they didn’t answer me but unless they choose to tell me, I don’t know the real answer. It’s like someone punched a hole through them and I can’t fill in the part. I don’t want to make assumptions either because I don’t want them making assumptions about me.

Because, let’s face it … sometimes secrets are secrets and no matter how much we care about someone else we can’t know it all. Shadows hang in the corners. People, real people, aren’t characters in a book that we can manipulate and read. They don’t reveal their soul on page three, they don’t spill their backstory in one fateful paragraph. They don’t drag us along on the journey to see every twist and turn that comes in life.

The more days that pass between the conversation and now, the more I realize that my question wasn’t important at all nor was their response to it. Characters are part of our lives for mere moments. They have a finite lifespan, even the most endearing ones.

But those friends that sweep in and touch our soul are with us for eternity and they are more important than any question or hole or shadow in the corner. They deserve our respect and our honesty and our compassion.


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