We are not perfect.
We’re not perfect artists, and we’re not perfect people.
Writing imperfect things reminds us we are imperfect humans. But writing can also, possibly, influence our own behavior, and change our lives. Maybe even help us change other people’s lives.
I’ve spent a lot of time lately thinking about how devoting myself to writing has helped me grow as a person. The most concrete example I can give is the act of creating dynamic characters.
In every story, at least one of your characters changes. Something happens to them that pushes them to their limits and challenges them to think and/or behave differently than they have in the past in order to solve a problem.
I wasn’t very good at this, at first. When you’re first starting out, it’s very easy to treat every story like fantasy — you forget that at least some aspect of every story has to relate back to the people who are reading it. So at first your characters go through all the cliche storylines you’ve seen in your favorite books, movies, and shows. It’s how you learn to create a three-dimensional character.
Eventually, you sort of figure out how to grow a character without relying on those simple, overdone story outlines. Or, more accurately, you learn to use those same cliches, but spin them into refreshing plots.
Dynamic characters grow and develop, just like people do.
The problem is that characters have about 300-500 pages to grow. It’s very easy to pinpoint where a character starts out, the event that forced them to start changing, and the subsequent events that pushed them to really learn that final “lesson” they need to learn before the story ends.
That’s not how it works in real life.
Something could happen to you when you’re five years old, and it could take 50 years of continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again until you finally get it. If you ever do. And it’s not always this big revelation. A lot of the time, it’s small and gradual and there’s no moment where you sit back and think, “Wow, I finally figured it out.”
But one of the perks of being a writer is that you spend a lot of time thinking about the things that motivate people to change — hopefully for the better, but sometimes for the worse. In some dark and twisty way, you spend so much time with “people” (or the idea of people, what I like to call imaginary people) that you understand humans a lot better. You get why they say and do dumb things. You understand why some people make the effort to do things differently, and others do not.
In that way, is it possible that the act of writing alone can make you a better human?
Perhaps it can. If you allow it to.
If you apply the things your characters and audiences are supposed to be learning from your stories to your own lives. If you remember that the more widely read you are, the more of a “personality” you become, and with that comes an opportunity to do plenty of good … or not.
Don’t be the villain in another person’s story — on purpose. If that’s how you have to think about it, then stick with that. Use your own writing to remind yourself that good ALWAYS wins, and hate always destroys. You can always choose to be good. You can always do better than you did last time.
You can always change. It will make a much more entertaining story, in the end.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.