Writing and Soul Searching– How To

I’ve been doing some soul searching lately and it occurred to me that others may benefit from my pain (in a good way) and my travels. First, why does a writer know (or care) about self-examination? No, like most people in this life, the writer typically cares not for the ascension to become a better human being any more than his or her fellow homo sapiens do. Why would a writer want to practice self-examination then???

There is an old saying– because I know me, I can know you. Similarly, because I know you, I can know me. What is meant by that is that most of us– by and large– are not all that different from each other. When one is honest with themselves, each of us must admit that “at one time or another”, we have done some/most/all of these things, for various and sundry reasons….

  • Shoplifted/stolen
  • Speed (operating a moving vehicle)
  • Lied
  • Cheated someone
  • Cheated on their taxes
  • Nude in public– drunk or otherwise
  • Assault/Battery
  • Public Mischief (TP’d someone’s house for example)
  • Cut class/work
  • “Re-Gifted” a present
  • Yelled at someone (even in public) even for no apparent reason
  • Gossiped about another in a hurtful way

These are in no real order….and anyone can increase the list. It is by self-examination that we as writers can better understand our villains– and our heroes– and the why’s of the things that they do. Am I saying that if your villain is short on cash and you are writing about him/her robbing a bank, you should go hold up a convenience store to better understand your plot? No, of course not. However, it is by examining those time that we did (as in past tense) steal something that we can better understand why we stole/cheated/assaulted/etc. and– more importantly– how we felt about the experience from beginning to end.

So, down to brass tacks. In this example I will use theft– I’ve been typing about for the last couple of paragraphs anyway. Any of the previous actions could be treated this way with some forethought.

  • Why did I steal (assault someone, cut class, etc.)?
  • Was there any reason why I chose that person to steal from? Answers could very well be “random” (some guy left his dark glasses on the counter while I was standing there) to something more specific (That guy called me an asshole because I bumped into him).
    • If anything, what did the other person do to me?
  • Could I have done anything differently to achieve my goal (bought my own dark glasses), or was my motive only to cause pain/loss/etc. for the sake of pain itself (“teach the other person a lesson”)?
    • In the end, did I enjoy the experience? Remember, there are no right or wrong answers here. Really, only you need to know the answer.
  • How can I apply this knowledge to my characters, current and future?

I have deliberately kept these questions a little vague, short, and to the point in the hope that they will be more useful “in a pinch” when writing a story. For deeper revelations and better insight into the human experience, I may write another post on this subject, or any good book on self-examination will be helpful. Until then, these and still other questions along this line that some thought will provide will better help us (myself included) to understand the motivations that drive us to do the things that we do, and we hope, help us become better authors.

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