Just a little observation.
Kindness versus the truth: Which one wins? It’s a simple enough question—though it may take a heated debate to smooth away all the various rough edges. Some will say you cannot have one without the other. I disagree.
The truth is often brutal in its honesty. If an individual on the receiving end isn’t prepared to hear the unvarnished facts, they will, no doubt, view the messenger as unkind—maybe even evil. This is a prevailing symptom of an all-too-common disease plaguing the world today. And just what is this new plague? It’s the idea that we can no longer offer opinions without some individual on social media becoming offended, hurt, or angered, as if by merely stating an opinion, you have personally attacked another by virtue of their having stumbled upon your tweet or blog or Facebook post.
Okay. Let me explain. On a recent Friday night, I came across a Tweet from an author asking a credible question:
Do you ever feel like the characters are writing the story for you?
Simple enough. And it’s a legitimate inquiry. Many authors tweeted their response. Most of them said, yes, they often feel their characters are writing their stories.
I weighed in with my own opinion. I tweeted:
I am the author, the creator. My characters do not exist without me. They do not have the ability to act independent of me. If they write for me, I am not the author. Those who claim the characters write for them are either short-changing themselves or they aren’t real writers.
Again, this is simply my opinion in answering the question posed. Well, my opinion earned scorn and derision from a pair of writers who took my words as an attack on them personally. Offended, they were. How dare I “crap” all over another writer’s “process!” Well, no. Claiming your characters are the ones writing your story isn’t a “process.” I do understand the mindset. I get where these people are coming from. You get lost in the creative elements and it feels as if the story is unfolding on its own.
But it isn’t. You, as the writer, are constructing every character, every line of dialogue, building every scene. You did all the leg work in plotting and planning. We all do—regardless of whether we outline our story or write it by the seat of our pants. Even those so-called pantsers usually have some idea where the story will go before they set pen to paper—or tap those keys. When I hear somebody claim the characters are doing the writing, I get the feeling this person might be making it all up as they go along—not a clue as to where it’s going or how they’ll get there.
This brings me back to the title question: Kindness versus truth: Which one wins? You can express kindness in telling an athlete they lack the skills to play organized football, but it’s still going to hurt. You’ve just crushed a dream.
Over the last two decades, I have watched many seasons of the television show American Idol. The program has been a springboard for some incredibly gifted singers and musicians. We’ve become familiar with their songs, their voices, their names. However, for every Kelly Clarkson or Carrie Underwood, there are dozens of individuals who did not make it beyond the audition stage. I recall many alleged singers who were just plain awful. You can find some of those bad auditions on YouTube, should you need a reference point.
Anyway, when the judges dismissed these performers, telling them that they didn’t have what it takes to move on to the next round, many of the rejected contestants responded by hurling angry insults at those who have built successful careers in the music business.
“How dare you say I can’t sing! My mother says I’m as good as Lady Gaga.”
As writers, most of us have cultivated thick skins. We need it in this line of creativity. Our work is ultimately sent out into the world to be read, judged, criticized, and dissected. For all the positive reviews our work may garner, there will be those who view it in a negative light.
They didn’t connect with your protagonist.
They couldn’t follow the plot.
They just didn’t believe the dialogue rang true.
It happens to the best of us.
Now, to my point in this observation. If you’re a writer, don’t take the little things so personally. If a bad review comes your way, read it, search for those criticisms you might use, then move on. Don’t linger. Don’t replay the negative remarks over and over inside your head. The same goes for opinions—especially those shared in a tweet. They really shouldn’t matter to the writer. Opinions are often little more than the observations of others. If you believe your characters are writing your story, then so be it. Who am I to say otherwise? Just write, create, have fun, and the opinions of others be damned.
And work on that thick skin.
If you offer your work to the world, you’re going to need it.