Real Life Lessons for Your Characters

IMG_1420My son is a psychologist, fresh out of school and still working for free to get his required hours.  He tells me that there are scientific studies that explore the differences between popular people with lots of friends and unpopular people with no friends. The only difference that achieves statistical significance is this:

People who wind up having many friends are those who share personal feelings. People who don’t share personal feelings can do everything else the popular people do and still have no friends.

It’s not how well you listen. It’s not how introverted or extroverted you are. It’s not whether you “get them talking about themselves.”

It’s whether or not you can share honest personal feelings.

Have you noticed how popular Katniss is (from Collin’s best seller, Hunger Games)?  Have you noticed that Katniss doesn’t let a paragraph slip by without telling you something about how she feels? Did you know that this is why you love her?

Another real-life lesson from my son…

Giving your respect, your admiration, your approval, your emotional kindness away for free (too easily) is not normal or healthy. It reduces your value in the eyes of the people to whom you’ve given it. They lose interest in you because there’s something about you that feels worthless to them. It’s as if the price tag sets the value. Stupid, but that’s the way it is.

Your religion, like the life-long fundamentalist Christianity I devoted most of my life to, may say otherwise. I hope not.

Your genetics and childhood environment may have forced you into giving away the things that make you seem valuable as a friend. I hope not.

And really, I agree that it takes all kinds of people to make the world go around. Sometimes sacrifices have to be made for the greater good, or simply because you’re afraid or have no choice.

Just realize, it truly is a sacrifice you’re making when you give yourself, your affection, your approval away indiscriminately and unconditionally to all comers. It’s not normal or healthy, but neither are many of the things people do for a higher cause.

This is true in fiction, too. Minor characters have to scurry about kissing the feet of the villains at times. Religious characters have to sometimes sacrifice their personalities and treat everyone impartially with that special sort of love.

But don’t do this to the character who is trying to drive your story… unless the story is designed specifically for an anti-hero of some sort.

Your hero needs to express doubt to the faces of all newcomers – doubt about their trustworthiness before she trusts them. She needs to share her feelings if she’s going to have friends, yes, but only with those who have first earned her trust. If she admires anyone, that person has done something extraordinary to earn her admiration. If she’s emotionally kind to someone, it has to be someone who’s proven himself to her, or someone who is weak and has nothing that could benefit her in any way. She mustn’t be sweet to someone in order to be liked. That will bring her dislike and disdain… from the other characters as well as your readers.

Remember this stuff, it will change your life and the lives of the characters in your stories.

M. Talmage Moorehead

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