Life is Always More Complicated
It’s tempting to describe our lives using simple concepts. Sally entered the conference room and yelled at her coworkers. Why? Person one knows her to be a mean person. Person two is aware of Sally’s personal issues which clearly affected her judgment. Person three is convinced her anger resulted from their project failing to meet the required numbers. Person four insulted Sally last week and this is retribution. Four different people and four different conclusions. Yet, each person is convinced they understand Sally.
In the above example, the “truth” is likely a combination of factors, a single overriding factor or something unrelated. Humans can be unpredictable, distracted, confused and obsessed. What’s worse is that the very element which guides us (our minds) may be damaged, obsessed or drugged out. The possibility also exists that our emotions result from boredom, mistakes, or somebody else’s involvement. To make matters worse, we lie, deceive, hate and are confused.
If we invented a scanner to see inside Sally’s mind, it’s likely that her anger resulted from a specific issue. Before she entered the room, she focused her anger enough to speak. Let’s pretend that the logical conclusion is correct; the team’s bad numbers upset Sally. The last time this occurred, she yelled at the team resulting in workplace improvement. Yet, during Sally’s rant, she didn’t mention numbers. Did she lose her cool and forgot the main topic?
What kind of person is Sally? Is she a jerk, uncontrolled, stupid, arrogant, over-confident or spiteful? Did she make an honest mistake? Is this event indicative of her life? Will the team’s performance improve? Plus, we have not considered what will occur after the event. There may be weeks of hurt feelings, retribution, slowdown, HR reports or sabotage. Perhaps there will be growth, change, energetic coworkers and improved numbers.
What’s the point? It’s easy to assume that Sally is not a complex person. She got mad one day and nothing more. I disagree. Sally is a mature woman with a developed personality based on a lifetime of education, experiences, social experiments, observation of others and mistakes. Even if she had a single overriding reason, many aspects came into play. It took effort to speak up and Sally made a choice.
Now that we have discussed Sally’s complex life, let's write about it. That endeavor presents a problem. Most fictional stories have many characters. She may simply be a minor character to move the plot along. Alternatively, Sally might be the main character with an extensive background. Her motives must be explained and fully vetted. This will allow the reader to appreciate her role, decisions, actions, and reasoning.
Even if Sally’s character contains a well-described background, no book could fully capture her lifetime of experience. As readers, we understand that the simple act of yelling at a bunch of people contains more depth. Every word, action, and reactions are essential to understand the overall incident. (For example, did Sally swear, quote the bible, talk down or provide an inspirational message.) If an author were to describe Sally in-depth, the book would be massive, boring, overly descriptive and difficult to publish/write. To solve this issue, we accepted an uncomplicated Sally; one day, she yelled at her team.
Nonfiction authors must travel down a different path. Let’s pretend Sally is actually the famous aviator Amelia Earhart. Amelia walked into the room and yelled at the people about her flight plan. Umm... It’s not that easy. While Amelia is no longer with us, we must answer many questions. What is the foundation for her anger? Why did she choose to speak up that day? Is she always this angry? Readers must understand her personality/motives/history in order to put the significance of this historical event into context. Unfortunately, Amelia's actions are in the past, cannot be changed and she cannot be interviewed. As a writer, the only option is to explain her actions/decisions in the best possible context.
Why? As humans, we cannot accept the basic premise that (the real) Amelia randomly yelled at a group. Something needed to guide her actions and readers need to understand the source of her anger. However, the writer describing the incident needs to guess about her true motives. The result is a fact-based opinion that explains her actions.
In life, we have a different method of looking at people. In the above example, we would be either person one, two, three, four or Sally. Let’s pretend we’re person one. Sally is a mean person, she yelled at me and I no longer like her. Simple. Right?
Life is more complex. It’s likely that after a good night’s sleep and things would not seem as bad. She might apologize or at least appear to be disappointed about her actions. Or we could calmly discuss the matter. Alternatively, there could be negative consequences. However, from that point forward, the relationship between Sally and me would change. Humans have excellent memories and they use their experiences in many ways.
This point of this blog is that life is quite complex and a simple event is not simple. Humans have a lot going on and yet, we try to write about complex events as if they were simple. It’s fun to explore people and characters. Yet, we can never fully capture them.
You’re the best -Bill
October 30 2019
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