I create people.
As an author, I create characters, endow them with a past, present, and future, put them in predicaments and then extricate them. I can make them tall, short, handsome, ugly, and I can make them make you cry. But, I don’t really control them. They will say and do things that will surprise me. Sometimes, they make me cry. Sometimes, they have a story that I didn’t even know existed when I first brought them to life and if I pay attention to them, it often turns out their story is much more interesting—or tragic—then the one that I created for them.
In thinking about this it occurred to me that we all create people.
They’re not fictional people on a page, however; they are the fictionalized versions of the real people with whom we interact every day. Our husbands, wives, children, parents, friends. We create images of these people, which is very problematic indeed, because we constantly confuse the image with the actual person. We want those people to behave according to our notion of how they should behave. That doesn’t leave those folks any room for growth, which means that they’ll have to get away from us to achieve it. Even purely fictional characters are allowed to grow—if the author truly cares about them.
Your acquaintances, your friends, even your children and spouse have stories of which you’re probably not aware. Humans do not like incomplete stories, however, and so we use our own imaginations to fill in the parts of other people’s lives about which we know nothing. But, of course, those other people don’t know the role they’ve been assigned. That “aloof” person may simply choose not to talk about herself, for example, (unlike most of the rest of us.) Or she may not want to talk now. Or she may not want to talk to you about whatever “it” is. Which may be nothing but a plot device of our own invention.
Respecting someone, indeed, loving someone, means giving that person room to grow, even if it’s in ways that aren’t in our author outlines. This doesn’t mean that we have to like everyone, but if we discover that we just don’t connect with a certain person, then we can let him or her be without creating an explanation that fits our own narrative.
My new year’s advice for us all is this: Let’s be slower to judge the plot of other people’s stories at least until we hear them tell it for themselves, and if they choose not to, let’s leave the story untold.