This Discomfort of Honesty (guest post)

Many thanks to Annabelle for taking over my blog today…read on for her take on honesty!

It has come to my attention recently that people don’t like honesty. They just…don’t. Now, don’t get me wrong. No one likes to be told their new hair cut looks terrible, or the dinner they made tastes like Cream of Creature, or that yes, those jeans do, in fact, make their butt look big. That type of honesty falls into the “if you don’t have something nice to say” category. It’s the honesty of life, of our day to day behaviors and of ourselves that sends us running for the hills.

It’s apparent every day how heavily people avoid honesty. Lying to hid our true selves isn’t only considered polite, it’s an epidemic of systemic proportions. Examples of this run rampant though social media. How many of your Facebook friends posted status updates today about the perfection of their house/job/children/spouse? Unending happiness and perfection are the expected facade for American culture. Any move to upend these mores is often met with resistance, if not anger and disdain.

As a writer, your job is to scratch, claw, and dig into the ugly and raw parts of a story and its characters. Even if you’re writing the most unrealistic SciFi book in the most outlandish setting with an ending that defies the laws of physics, your characters must follow their arc and be true to themselves. When Shakespeare wrote, “To thine own self be true,” he summarized not only the overall secret to living without regret, but the path by which all writers will find the honestly of their writing.

This can prove to be a very uncomfortable experience because we have been conditioned to ignore our wants, our needs, our dreams and our desires in favor of making those around us more comfortable. If someone asks you, “How are you today?” you’re most definitely not supposed to respond with, “Well, I got shampoo in my eye this morning, one of my kids has diarrhea and I was up all night with him, I’m behind on three deadlines and I’m out of coffee.” The appropriate response is, “Fine, and you?” But, my friends, this will not do when you’re writing. Even if your character says, “Fine, and you?” your job is to know, to understand and feel all of the things your character is facing at that moment and then convey them to your reader through the various literary tools at you have in your arsenal of writing skills.

Over and over again, writers hear that their writing isn’t “honest,” and so many struggle to decipher what that really means. I have good news and bad news.

First, the bad news. You’re going to have to face your own demons. To fully understand your character you need to be honest with yourself about why you created this character in the first place. What does he represent? Why is his journey important? How will he struggle with and overcome the challenges presented to him in the story? If you find that he is serving only as a plot vehicle who falls flat on the page or that you struggle with the consistency of his character, you’re not being honest.

I also promised good news, but it comes with strings attached. When you finally get honest, when you acknowledge and accept yourself, warts and all, in turn, your characters will be come more rich and well developed. The motivation behind why your heroine always wears turtlenecks will progress beyond a contrived plot point to an expression of her need for privacy and security. She will go from saying something bitchy for the sake of conflict to facing real problems and conquering them in ways that help her grow as a person. You may have been aware of these facets of your character’s personality in the beginning, but by seeking the raw honesty of the emotion behind their actions, you’re able to fully develop your character and that is what will give your reader a reason to invest in your story. It will be hard, it will uncomfortable, and it may even hurt, but it will help you become the writer you are meant to be.

Annabelle Blume is an aspiring romance novelist who lives in a tiny house in California, with too many children and too many dogs, not unlike the Old Woman in the Shoe. Her first novella, Frozen Heart, will be out for query at the beginning of 2012. She works as a freelance writer and marketing consultant for magazines, blogs, and businesses under the name Abigail Blank. To find our more information visit AnnabelleBlume.com or follow her on Twitter @AnnabelleBlume.

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