We are all the product of our choices. We can’t blame mom or dad or bad advice of friends and family. We can’t blame our teachers. We can’t blame Bush. And it is not always by random chance that the main character or characters in a story find themselves in a difficult situation, either. In fact, in real life I know of very few, if any circumstances outside of winning the lottery that come out of nowhere – and even to win the lottery one must choose to buy a ticket..
It is our choices in life, generally thousands of small choices along the way that define us. The same should be true about our characters. When I read background information written by other writers, I look for the choices the characters made along the way. I find all sorts of events that happen around them and sometimes to them, but I rarely read about them. In my mind, that may be good history background, but there is very little character background there.
But now, having said that we are the product of our many, many choices in life, there is one disclaimer. Neither us nor the characters in a story live in a vacuum as alluded to above. None of us is an island – unless we have chosen to live as a hermit in a cave. Sometimes, those with whom we are connected can turn a bad choice into gold. Sometimes, those same connections can turn a good choice into dross. In other words, the choices are ours, but the outcome can be affected by the world around us.
Writers choose to write no less than Van Gogh chose to paint or Mother Theresa chose to dedicate her life to the needy. Mother Theresa gained some acclaim in her lifetime. She did not want it. That was not what she was there for. Van Gogh, now considered one of the greatest painters who ever live, sold only one painting his whole life, to a friend who felt sorry for him. He was (likely) bi-polar. He mixed bursts of productivity with fits of depression so great he once cut his ear off.
Why mention this? Because success or failure are relative. Recognition or rejection are relative. They are outsider dependent issues. They are things that happen to writers, things beyond the writer’s control. They are things that might happen in one of those so-called character sketches. But they should never define the writer.
Writers write because they choose to write. Characters face or run away from dilemmas – their choice. We sometimes feel trapped by this or that, and characters too, as long as it is sometimes. But the truth is there is always a way out, an option, a new choice that can be made. If a writer chooses to do something different, they will stop writing and do that other thing. If they choose to write, they will write. Succeed or fail, respected or rejected means little to writers who have chosen to write. Sure, success, a little acclaim, a little respect would be nice, but they are not writing. I don’t know how else to say it. Writers write.
We are the product of our choices, and our characters should be as well. So for us and for the characters we write about, I recommend the thought that Yogi Berra put so very well: When you come to a fork in the road you should take it. Now who can say it clearer than that?