I often wonder how many of my fellow writers have gone through times of self-doubt.
I’m not referring to the kind of doubt you get about being good enough, about your craft being up to the challenge, but rather doubts about what you can… and cannot write about.
When I started writing, I was conceited enough to think it might be a bad thing to write a “perfect crime” on the off-chance someone might read it, and give the scheme a try. I outgrew that notion when I realized how truly difficult it would be, and how impossible it would be to test a “perfect crime”.
Later I faced a certain trepidation about political correctness. I reasoned that as a product of my culture and my time I had a responsibility to adhere to the mores and standard of my current society. In other words, to stay away from saying things that would offend the reader. What a pain!
How in the world could I make believable characters in a believable world, if they all sounded like me? Get the drift?
Of course the answer is you can’t. If your characters can only sound like you, can only use your voice, your views, your habits… how in the world—except for attribution tabs—could your reader tell one character from another? Clearly they could not… or at least not without more work than a reader should have to do.
So, for me, at least, it came down to this: not all of my characters agree with the current standards of speech, behavior, religious or political thought, or… or just about anything. They are, each of them, self-made (or at least as self-made as anyone can be), they each have their own foibles, belief systems, prejudices and notions. They each understand—or misunderstand—their world, their country, their government, their homes, relationships, and themselves in their own way.
Bottom line: that is what makes a character live.
We cannot be shy about letting our characters speak their minds. A walk through a school yard, down a busy city street, through a mall, or anywhere public will inform you immediately that people speak their minds, and do so loudly, and often. …and, lo and behold, some of what they say offends. Even us.
Today’s challenge—you knew we’d get around to it, didn’t you?—is to experiment with the thoughts and speech of characters who do not think the way YOU do. Do two, each a paragraph in length. Stretch yourself. Embarrass yourself if necessary, but get out of your own head for a bit, and into someone you have created to be different.