On Writing: Misunderstandings Lead to Better Characters

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In December of 2019, I met a newlywed couple at a Christmas party. They had recently come back from their honeymoon, which included a cruise. One night the crew put together a game night for all the passengers, which included a version of The Newlywed Game. When the host asked the new husband, “If you could change anything about your wife, what would it be?” he replied, “Her teeth.”

Ouch, right?

For the rest of the cruise, other passengers would walk up to them, give him dirty looks and tell the wife, “You’re beautiful the way you are.”

What no one else knew, however, was that the wife had lived in an orphanage in China for a few years before being adopted. During that time, she had received very poor dental care, and as a result, she has had lifelong issues with her teeth, including having to have several painful surgeries. So when the husband said that if it were possible, he would change his wife’s teeth, what he meant was, he wished he could take away her years of embarrassment and pain.

The best stories are the ones that make us step beyond our convictions. They teach us about life as viewed through someone else’s eyes. So when you’re writing, write a character that you disagree with, or better yet, one that you hate. Try to figure out why they say what they say or do what they do. Explore an issue from all angles. Tell the whole story. Try to make yourself, and eventually your readers, sympathize with someone else’s point of view. After all, we’re all heroes in our mind, and a villain in someone else’s.

Tell me about your misunderstandings at Kate@KateLanders.com.