Prompted by an exercise in The Perfect You, I am considering how to read between the lines within conversations and observations in every day life. As a writer, this is a critical exercise.
It is safe to say that many (if not all) characters within classical and favorite novels throughout the ages have centered around observing people. Writers read body language and interpret it within their descriptive prowess. Tone, innuendo, thoughts, and feelings are exhibited through well-crafted dialogue. Idiosyncrasies are displayed, sometimes with exaggeration, to identify characters’ personalities with their strengths and weaknesses.
But, there is a caution to this activity as well. We can be guilty of misinterpretation, of invading privacy, of indirect (or direct) mockery if we fail to consider the real people behind our characterizations. It’s a delicate tight-rope that all writers walk. We must remained balanced. In all likelihood, our fictional portrayals reflect a nonfictional reality. If we are doing our jobs well, we will speak truth without deprecating results.
This begins with respecting our characters as if they are real people. As we reveal their stories, we determine what and what not to share. How much is too much? In many cases, the less the better. Let each character live. What will emerge is authenticity–a not-all-good, yet not-all-bad persona–that will allow readers to empathize and analyze at the same time.
Perhaps we need more of that in our reading of the people we encounter daily. Because judgment without mercy is tyranny, and mercy without judgment is overindulgence. Both judgment and mercy are required for a fair assessment of a situation. Both are essential for quality writing as well.