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Exercise Wednesday: What makes you ashamed

May 7, 2014

Good writing has to be authentic and sometimes it has to be uncomfortable. Though we like to see ourselves as strong and well-formed–to see ourselves as the dashing hero or heroine, the one who does the right thing and is strong and makes things right–the truth is, we’re human. We all have biases and traps.

Inside each one of us is something as heinous as the worst thing every said or done by Archie Bunker. There’s bigotry and blind spots in everyone. As a writer, your ability to spot yours, and then maybe harness it, is something that can add depth to your writing.

A recently watched an anti-bullying video on Facebook. It was very stereotypical. A bigger, scarier looking guy was bullying a smaller bookish-looking guy. As I watched, I switched the roles. What if the small guy were pushing the bigger guy around? How would people react then?

I realized my first reaction would be disgust. But it would be aimed at the bigger guy for letting it happen. He should take care of business, after all. If you’re a big guy and you let yourself get your ass kicked by a little guy, that’s on you.

But the fact of the matter was, that I used to be that big guy. As a kid, I was a head taller than anyone around me. And eventually, the little guys figured out they could screw with me and I wouldn’t hit them back. Somewhere in my pee-sized little-kid brain, I decided it wasn’t fair of me to use my size to my advantage.

So when my initial visceral thought of the bigger bullying victim as deserving some level of beating, it was probably because I was thinking back to what happened to me back in the olden days before indoor plumbing.

Today’s exercise is something you might not be able to do today. But do it sometime. When you see something that evokes an emotional response in you that you don’t like, write about it. It will help make your characters more understandable and more human.

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