You are about to read a big long rant about how much I hate the world and all the people in it. I will sound like a terrible person. Because I am a terrible person. I do not act how I really want to act, or do what I really want to do, or say what I really want to say. Why? Because I care what other people think about me.
Here’s a very incomplete list of why I am a terrible person:
1. I am a hypocrite. I do not stand up for what I believe in. I let people say racist things, and sexist things, and just plain terrible things. I laugh when people say these things. I say these things. I have told racist jokes, and sexist jokes, and Hellen Keller jokes. Even though I knew they were wrong. Because if I held to every principle I believe in, I would be very alone. Most of my friends would not be friends with me anymore. Most of my family would refuse to talk to me. Many of the people I stood up for would blame me for making their lives harder. And it is very easy to say that maybe I should find different friends. Well, I have an excuse for that, too:
2. I am pathetic. I don’t make friends easily. I am shy, I have severe social anxiety, and most of the time I can’t understand for the life of me why anyone would want to talk to me at all, much less be friends with me. And so I am willing to bend my rules quite a bit to keep from losing a friend.
I once had a huge fight with a friend of mine. It was one of many such fights. He made a comment about me on Facebook in response to a status that had exactly zero to do with him. It was rude, and irrelevant, and I still don’t really understand why he said it. And he had been following me around facebook making similar comments in similar contexts for several days before. That comment struck a nerve like a planet-killing asteroid, and so I called him on it. But I didn’t want to ruffle feathers. Not everything he says is like that. Not everything he says makes me want to break his nose with a violin case. So, I pretended like it wasn’t a huge deal. I called him out with a joke. And so of course he refused to listen. So I called him out again, more strongly. And he got mad. We started trading shots back in forth and he ended up, in complete seriousness, threatening to beat the shit out of me the next time we met. And he could. He could drop me on the floor in three seconds flat. He gets in lots of fights, and there’s usually broken bones involved.
I am never completely innocent. I have done things I believe are wrong, I have trapped myself. If I tell someone I think they have done something wrong, they can point to all of the times I have done that thing, and no matter what excuse I have, and I have many, it is never enough, and so I shut my mouth and agree that I am wrong and that I have no right to criticize, and I apologize for calling them out for their words and actions, and I tell them that what they have done is okay.
I’m still not sure I wouldn’t deserve it if he beat the shit out of me. I said some pretty bad things to him in the course of that argument. But, what I was sure of, was that I didn’t want to lose this person as a friend. And so, even though I believed that he was at fault, and I still would have clocked him if we had been face-to-face and he said one more thing, I apologized, and I let him work me around until I ended up taking all the blame, and he had only responded as any sane person would. And I felt it was completely worth it, and I would do it again in a second. Because if our friendship got trashed, it would have caused major damage to several other relationships, which I also didn’t want to lose, even if he chose not to be vindictive about it.
3. I am selfish. The status quo sucks, but because I am a white, hetero-sexual, American male, I can look at all of the acts which violate my beliefs and say: “This does not affect me. It does not make my life harder. But opposing it would; and because I am selfish, and I like having friends, and not being treated like a freak, I will put up with and even participate in these things in order to maintain my current position.
4. I am a coward. My position is not perfect. I have money problems, and I get bullied, and I have no idea what the fuck I am doing, and I feel like shit every day for giving in to peer pressure, and sometimes I wish I could just go to sleep and not wake up in the morning. But things could be worse. They could be a lot worse. And one of the things that would make them worse is standing up for what I believe is right. And so I will not do it. Because I am afraid of what would happen if I did.
And all of those things make me hate myself. But clearly not enough to do anything about it. And that’s why I say I am a terrible person.
Now, this is a writing blog. I said it was a writing blog. You expect it to be a writing blog. The obvious connection to writing here is flawed but symapthetic but realistic characters. A realistic character will not have a good reason for everything they do. They will do things that conflict with their beliefs. They will do things that conflict their society’s beliefs. And they must absolutely do something that conflicts with the readers’ beliefs–because otherwise their flaw is no flaw. Their reasons for doing these things will range from righteous to deplorable. People will disagree over whether their actions are justified. But if you want the character to be sympathetic, these actions must be understandable. And in much of the fiction I have read, whether speculative, or mainstream, or YA, I don’t see people doing these things, and it really takes the tension out of the story. Your hero does some horrible thing and I am about to have a fascinating moral debate with myself–but wait! A god revives all the people he killed, or it turns out that things were not as they seemed and the hero is completely justified, or maybe he got so far as picking the lesser of two objective evils. And so I can’t possibly fault his decision, and all that angst you built up on the way to this climax falls flatter than a week-old glass of coke. And all the sympathy for the character and the terrible choice they had to make vanishes, and I want to throw your book against the wall, or maybe smack you in the back of the head with it. Bad Aurthor! And then I will go leave a scathing review on Goodreads or Amazon, because the one thing I do have the guts to stick up for is protecting readers from a shitty book.