“People define reality situationally a lot of the time, and the further someone is from self-awareness and accountability, the more dramatic that can be from the outside.” – from my friend JC Andrijeski
Related: this Burger King Anti-bullying ad will wreck you.
This applies to people in general, to characters in books, and to writers themselves.
To write is to attempt to explain people, so writers generally are more understanding of human nature than your average person – although I’ve read plenty of books written by someone whose people-knowledge is still pretty underdeveloped. But in general, writers inhabit many bodies, trying to understand them from the inside out, in order to tell their stories – that takes a flexibility of mind and an understanding of humans that you either start out with or develop along the way. A writer also has to be aware of their own viewpoint in order to stand outside it and create someone more villainous or heroic or smart or greedy than they are. We can see how people define their reality situationally because we put characters in different situations precisely to reveal who they really are.
And writers, being gods of our own worlds, can create any situation.
I’ve always been fascinated by what makes people tick (having a psychologist for a mother and an engineer for a father will do that). As I writer, I play with the level of self-awareness of my characters consciously (at least to the limit of my own self-awareness – I know it’s there even though I may not know the exact boundary).
Some characters are driven by their urges and impulses without really knowing why – and they create elaborate stories to explain the horrible things they often do. Just like real people.
Sometimes I’ll write a highly-self-aware character, and those are particularly challenging. I’m writing a character right now who is very aware of the darkness she’s trapped in (and why), yet can’t escape it on her own. She needs help, and I’m sending it in small life rafts of light. Her strength is in knowing to grab hold.
We are social creatures, and the reality we create for ourselves comes not only from own self-awareness but the people we allow to surround us… and how closely we connect with them. People crave connection, and the more we are unaware that we need that or allow ourselves to become disconnected (because connection is vulnerability and risk and sometimes pain), the more people hurt one another (and justify it in the process). I truly believe this – it’s why I talk (and write) about fighting hate and exploring your potential and connecting deeply with others. And love. Lots of love.
The world (and the people in it) need a whole lot more of it.
Writers understand this. And most of us write happy endings to our stories precisely to show the way we want the world to work out in the end.