Wednesday Workshop: Reflection and Projection

What you say reflects what is in your heart.

I feel if you are consumed by anger, then anger is what you shall sew with your words. I sometimes see social media posts almost totally consumed by railing against one form of hate or another, but the anti-hate post is often very hateful itself.

Think about that. The hate you hate, to the other side, is exactly the hate they hate.

Where are the Jedi Knights when you need them?

You know, that wise Alec Guinness figure who steps in and says, "Let us not use the tactics of our enemy, for we are better than this." I dislike using a Star Wars metaphor here, but I feel being the better person is how you begin to convince others your ideas are better for everyone. Of course, the conflicts in Star Wars are almost never solved by compromise and negotiation, so the noble idea of being better than the other side falls apart quickly in a mess of CGI and light sabre battles.

A commendable ideal, but a terrible metaphor.

But let me step back, and focus on this as a tool for writing. Yes, we can learn something about characters and motivations from hateful social media posts, so let us focus our energy there in a positive way. Let me give you a small exercise.

Take a character from one of your books, and take the current social media cause de jour. You know, that topic that you can never seem to clean out of your post feed, something like a hard water buildup that you can never really get rid of, like angry posts about politics or rants about political figures.

If your character had a social media account, would your character jump in? What would they say?

Would they say the same exact thing as you?

This is an area I like to be careful around, that 'character as author's voice' thing, since you are more likely than not to find a character in many books who fits that role. They are often very entertaining, that character who seems slightly above it all and comments on all the goings on exactly like what the reader is thinking right now. It is like that character in a movie who breaks the fourth wall for a moment as the superheroes are blowing apart the city and says, "Wow, we are sure making a real mess out of things right now. You think next time we could try talking things over?"

Of course, nothing usually comes of these statements, because I feel they are more for the audience's consumption than the characters in the story. They will never talk it over. The author's voice, as a force of reason, can't be listened to because it will lose its impact the next time something really crazy happens that author's voice needs to be there in a sarcastic and 'inside joke' sort of way to defuse the reader's natural 'so what' reaction.

I feel it is, in a way, a shell game writers play with readers, giving them someone who is supposedly 'on the reader's side' but I feel these author voice characters ultimately serve as a tool to further the main narrative and get the reader over massive humps of disbelief with a little sarcasm and humor.

But again, back to the main point.


I have this feeling people project their feelings - especially negative ones. If you have a character who is a thief, I feel the chances are this character will be the first one to accuse someone else of theft. I feel people tend to project negative qualities onto others. If you have someone consumed by hate, they will often be the one who shames others for being hateful. A character who is lonely may act in ways to worsen that loneliness rather than resolve it. Someone who is miserable tries to make everyone else miserable. Someone with something to hide accusing everyone else of hiding something.

These are dark and almost anti-social behaviors, but I see them time and time again in the world in which we live. I go through social media and read so much anger, but I often do not even hear their message - I am wondering about the person who wrote this. I need to be honest, I do see an occasional rare post of something innocuous, entertaining, or joyful - but the ones projecting something inside the person posting it fascinate me.

I sometimes see these thousand-word essays and wonder if the person had a bundle of thoughts and emotions all balled up inside that were not easy to express. I have typed out some of those myself and deleted them, just because I feel less is more and the diatribe is not worth the effort. I am not any better than anyone else, not by a long shot. But that huge wall of text and spilling of emotions, to me as a writer, is an interesting thing in itself. It is one of those moments where you can pick through a confused ball of tangled yarn and really see the person behind the post.

I feel if you reflect back those feelings, you get a better understanding of the person.

Perfect characters are boring. It is a good thing we live in a world where nobody is perfect, so we have a lot to study.

I see anger, and I wonder what caused this feeling. I often wonder if people project the misery they have going on in their lives onto other people and subjects. If I am out of work, bills are piling up, my neighborhood sucks, and my life generally stinks - would I project that misery onto others? Would I blame a hated political figure for all of my woes, even subconsciously? At time I feel us humans do that, we are great at blame shifting and we will gladly pile all our faults and problems onto others so we don't have to admit them or even deal with them.

If I don't have a job, it's because someone else came here illegally and took it from me, right?

I hate saying things like that, but you see those things said time and time again. It is the writer versus real person thing, as writers we say a lot of things as characters we would never say in real life because we are trying to reflect the truth of another life - however miserable or blissful that may be. We need to seek and write the truth, no matter how painful and ugly, and we need not fear any word or phrase. While there may be some truth to an ugly statement such as the one mentioned, what usually comes after is the blame shift.

So I don't have a job.

So I won't try.

It's not my fault.

And I hate that other person or group of people for this situation.

Ugly stuff, but again, things which I see often in real life. There is a difference here between the person and what we write. Me? I was raised to get out there and fix it. To roll up my sleeves and clean up that bathroom covered by feces, without anyone asking me to. To never blame my shortcomings and failures on other people. I still have my failings and weaknesses, and I am by no means perfect. I fuck things up sometimes. I fail. I cast blame. I have my opinions, and they aren't always right. But I try to be a good person. And I believe what I do matters.

That is just me. And I am but one character in the story of the world.

But back to the main point. We are not our characters, and I feel our characters shouldn't go out of their way to be liked by the reader.

Characters blame shift too. Your characters aren't perfect. They can project negative qualities onto others, even unfairly. They can do so knowingly or subconsciously. What a character says about someone else can be true for that character too - and they will do their damnedest to never admit it. If character A turns character B's feelings around and points out hypocrisy, you may have a really pissed off character B to deal with. And character B may be the one completely in the wrong and never wants to admit it.

It is hard to separate feelings from words. We get wrapped up in the moment. We mix in what we feel with what we know.

But as a writer, we study the human condition. We take that step back between our feelings and the words we write. It is helpful to think in terms of perspective and wonder why something was said. Warning, you never want to get reflective on someone in one of these posts and say, "You are just projecting some other anger in your life on to this situation..."



Don't do that.

Reason typically does not work with emotion, as these are feelings you are dealing with. Logic is scissors while feelings are rock, and you are going to be sitting there after days of going back and forth arguing logic with them and all you will end up with is a broken pair of scissors.

Be like paper and be the better person.

And then use that paper and write down everything you observe.