Are your characters kind?
This may sound like a strange question, but as a writer or reader, do you find the majority of main characters within stories to be kind? It wasn’t a concept I was in tune with, until recently, when I found myself coming across this word repeatedly. I read a lengthy article about marriage and how scientists have discovered the true secret to a happy marriage: kindness. I listened to my pre-teen and tween daughters describe conflicts with girls their age (not with them specifically, but other girls) and found that the basic element missing was: kindness. I’ve thought back to the times I get most angry at others while driving or standing in a super long grocery line or talking to a less than pleasant person in customer service – I’d had a bad day and was forgetting one thing: to be kind.
Then I began thinking about my own storybook characters, as well as those in my favorite novels which I love so much. And the weird thing is, I couldn’t think of a main character that was truly kind. The kind ones were all secondary characters, or those whose heads we were not constantly floating are in, during the story.
Flawed characters are much more interesting for readers to connect with – I know this, as do most authors, hence why we so often write these less than perfect characters. And I agree that we should be creating characters with which the readers can identify, but does this mean that our population is made up of entirely unkind people? I was greatly disturbed by this thought.
Why do we need to be reminded to do ‘Random Acts of Kindness‘? Why are there certain holidays or times of year where we are more kind to one another, over any other day? Are we as a society truly that unkind?
And then it hit me. I am unkind.
Before you balk, let me explain. If I were to say this blanket statement to my friends and family, I know I would get a number of protests, loved ones defending me, telling me I’m a very kind person. So why do they see me as something other than what I see?
Because I know my thoughts.
And when we’re reading a book, we know the main characters’ thoughts, as well.
I know every ugly, mean, obnoxious, uncalled for, defamatory, and downright evil thought I’ve ever had. Because, well, I’m myself. We all have those thoughts. We all have those moments where we’d really like to say what’s on our mind to another person and wonder what the reaction of those around us would be if we did ‘such and such’. Right?
And by getting inside our characters’ heads, we find ourselves in a place no different than our very own thoughts. Hence why we are so drawn to the main character in the first place. Might the main character of a particular story be very different from ourselves? Of course. But it’s the idea that they have dark, ugly thoughts, just like we do, that makes us so much more comfortable trusting that character and allowing ourselves to get lost in their story.
So, do I still think the world is a negative, hopeless existence? Nope.
The reason others view me as kind – when I know I do not always have kind thoughts – is because I choose not to act on them. I choose to be kind. And so do our characters.
(This is hanging in my living room. A good friend quoted it and another good friend brought it to life. One of my favorite gifts!)
Some days I’ve had it with my children and just want to tell them to go to their rooms forever. But I make a conscious choice not to spew my wicked thoughts. I make the purposeful decision to act opposite of how I feel inside, thereby squashing my unkind feelings and building relationships at the same time. Do I do this every time? Of course not. Which is why some motorists get maniacal honking and while I scream not-so-very-amiable words, as I drive by. But I’m human. Everyone has their days or moments.
Overall, I think it’s having that choice to do good over harm that sets us apart from other mammals. (Ok, one of the things… can’t forget that opposable thumb ;)) And I’m happy we have this choice. Do I think society is as forlorn and doomed for hell as I had thought? Not so much. I’m thinking there’s hope for us, after all 😉 And if it takes being reminded once per year just because a certain season has arrived, then so be it. If it takes embracing a challenge to remind us to be kind then so be it – RAoK can never be anything but positive, when done with the right intent. It takes one person, one day at a time to make this crazy ball of life a better world, right?
I’m glad to know I’m a kind person. I’m glad to know the characters I write are kind, too. And the next book I read, I’m going to be paying attention to the characters thoughts vs. their actions, to see just how kind they are, too 😉
How about you? Do you write kind characters? Or does their kindness have to shine through their flaws? Feel free to leave a comment below. And if you would like to get more involved in spreading some good old fashioned kindness this holiday season, check out this awesome website I found for Random Acts of Christmas Kindness!
Happy reading, friends!