I had a very interesting conversation yesterday with a fellow writer about author vs. character integrity. I have to say my eyes really opened to some aspects of my writing that I never considered before. If I'm at least 1/10th of a gifted story-teller, hopefully I'll be able to correctly share the wonderful revelation I learned.
When asked if my characters had integrity, I assumed the questioner was asking in reference to the quality of writing, the faithfulness to the English language or the adherence and obedience to the rules of grammar and punctuation, but I was wrong. (After reading this blog post containing those last four words - delete it and burn any printed copies containing such an omission. This is just something that should never be said, much less repeated.) That was not the intent of the question. They wanted to know if my characters had personal integrity to their characteristics, their ideals, their morals, their thoughts, or their reactions? I didn't really understand the question or the reasoning behind it, and wondered what it had to do with the craft of writing. You're probably wondering the same thing at this moment. If so ... you know exactly how I felt. For all those other "mature" writers out there who've already learned this wisdom, I'm sure you're smiling at my level of naivety. For those who are totally lost ... I don't know any solution to your problem.
Well, on with the story.
"What does the level of integrity of my fictional characters have to do with my writing?" I asked.
"The level? Nothing. The presence and application? Everything, " Questioner responded.
Feeling lost, I acquiesced the temptation to say anything else (that was a miracle in itself), and patiently waited for them to continue. Here is the answer (to the best of my understanding and recollection) I received:
The words that flow from a writer are understandings, morals, thoughts, ideas and solutions that are already hidden inside the very being of the author. These 'strings' are what weave their stories together and move plots forward, creates conflict, and brings about their resolutions. While we (authors) think we are separate from the characters we form from our imaginations, we're not. Just as our dreams subconsciously work out solutions to our everyday problems (even in fantastical ways), the same is true for our writing imagination. Who we are individually as a writer, will determine how our characters resolve their issues. How they see the world (no matter how many different personalities we create) is how we see the world or how we think others view it. Even our protagonists carry our the characteristics of our deepest fears or ideas.
If we examine all our works as a whole, we will be able to identify our deepest fears and our greatest hopes, and that theme, no matter how varied our stories, carries over, in one variation or another, in all our stories. We can tell different stories, but they all come from the same foundation; they just might be packaged in different colored boxes and tied with different colored strings.
I've always thought: If you want to get to know someone, read something they've written, because it always holds a part of who they are. I know I pour everything I am into everything I write - how much more is it true for others? However, I also know that sometimes the picture painted isn't always the whole picture. Not what everybody says or think is what they really mean. But if an artist paints several pictures, you'll start to recognize them. How many can pick out a Van Gough? Though he's painted many different scenes, HIS signature of style is clearly recognizable. The same goes for writers.
So, back to the original question: Do my characters have integrity? My answer: As much as I do - no more or no less.
Till next time,