Telling the Truth Is Hard
Even When You’re Making It Up As You Go
I’m a private person. A friend says it’s because I’m a Pisces. I think it’s because I was always in trouble as a kid for saying things that annoyed grownups. So I learned to hide my true thoughts and said what others wanted to hear. It was neither interesting nor fun, but I got pretty good at it. That skill worked well for getting along with adults and later on, bosses and coworkers. But when I started writing, this acquired façade turned into my biggest Nemesis.
As a beginning writer my protagonist (hero or heroine), did the same thing, but without the saving-grace of inner thoughts. I made my characters ‘nice,’ because this had worked well for me as a person. But the result on paper produced cardboard people that even I didn’t like.
For some time I soldiered on, not quite knowing how to fix my problem. Then one day while working at my computer (the place where best ideas spring to life) I realized that my aversion to showing flaws, wasn’t to protect my characters, it was to protect myself! (As if anyone really cared.)
No wonder I had plastic people in my stories. I decided to TELL THE TRUTH as I saw it. This decision improved my writing overnight. I started to speak straight from my heart, without worrying about how it sounded. Suddenly my characters turned into flesh and blood. These imaginary playmates didn’t blab their faults to other characters; they tormented themselves with these inner doubts. Flaws were vocalized inside their heads, where readers could identify with this common human trait.
Note to beginning writers: This is called inner dialogue, or a private conversation between the character and the reader.
To develop this and other writing skills, spend as much time as possible writing. Also it’s essential to read continually. After you finish reading a mystery (or other book) that you love, go back and study how that author set you up for the ride. Especially observe the character’s inner dialogue—especially those with no attributions.
I was astonished at how hard telling the truth was at first. These thoughts exposed me. It felt a bit like walking about naked. What would my church friends think? What would my children or mother think? But by that time I was at the point where writing had become more important to me than anyone’s opinion. I figured that if they liked me, they’d forgive me. So I forged on.
Telling the truth on paper has been the most freeing thing I’ve ever done as a writer. If you haven’t already discovered the joy of being yourself in your work, try it. Incidentally, this skill is also part of what’s called ‘voice.’ Dare to be outrageous, if that’s your true self. Or fearful, or timid, or cowardly. Your readers will love you for it.