Some scenes take longer to write than others. I don't always know why, but this time I do. My characters are discussing something that I haven't completely dealt with myself.
My own feelings about the subject keep mucking up the space that the characters need in order to breathe their ideas and life into the matter. A lot of what they need to say makes me angry. And then, as a writer, I am compelled to interfere and manipulate, to write their conversation and body language to show how small and wrong they are. But that leaves no room for their truth. It turns them into cardboard cutouts instead of pulsing, believable souls.
A writer I admire once brought a story from the point of view of a pedophile to workshop. The child in the character's fantasies was the same age as my daughter at the time. The writer had gotten inside his character's head masterfully. So much so that I had a hard time separating the author from the narrator and, out of respect for the author, stopped reading. This was a colleague who'd been to my house and met my child, and his writing was so good that I needed to put it down in order to continue the friendship. I learned later, through another writer, that he'd written the story to be able to deal with how deeply disturbed he'd been by having met a pedophile.
Out of all the pieces I've critiqued and had critiqued, I've learned the most about writing from this one piece that I chose not to finish reading. I rarely despise my characters. In fact, I think I have never hated a character I've written. But I've hated some of their ideas. When this happens, I have a choice. I can push my own agenda and cheapen the writing, gold-plating it. Or I can spend some time listening to what my characters want, who they are, how they have become so, and make space for their history on the page. Even if I don't tell the whole history, even if I sketch them in only one or two lines of dialogue or description, they deserve to have their own truth show up in that sketch. They deserve to be seen for whatever metal they are. They deserve my compassion, just like my colleague's pedophile needed his in order to be truly alive, truly human, truly revolting, and truly pitiable on the page.
My job today is not to speak through my writing, but to listen through it.
Image credit: Robert Young, used under CC Attribution 2.0 Generic License