I’ve repeatedly been told that people love my books because my characters are so honest. In Blue Belle, my second Wildflowers of Scotland novel, honesty – and the periodic lack of it – is one of the main themes of the book. This week, after several more instances of being told that my characters are so real that people can’t wait to find out what happens to them, and that they love my writing because it’s so honest – it’s gotten me wondering, how truthful am I really, as a person and a writer?
It’s much easier for me to be honest under the guise of fiction. People who read my books might wonder if some of the humiliating experiences that are detailed in my books really have happened to me. They may think – did someone really say that to her, hurt her that deeply, take advantage of her, steal from her, or make a fool of her the way they did in the book? Although all but a few close friends will never know which parts of my books are somewhat factual and which are complete figments of my imagination, if I’m honest, I have to admit that most of the horrid things that happen to my characters have very likely happened to me in one form or another. (Ah, the sweet anonymity of the qualifier…)
I, and most people I know, come from a stoical, northern European tradition of keeping your troubles to yourself, and not embarrassing yourself or your family by revealing too much information about personal matters. No one I know likes having TOO MUCH INFORMATION, except perhaps my husband, who has sometimes wished that people would feel free to be more honest with him (he’s a pastor). The rest of us tend to stay as far removed from the dreaded disease of opening up to people as is humanly possible.
It evidently takes a few years before these secretive behaviors are learned, because for years, my family has teased that we should never say anything in front of my young nieces and nephews that you don’t want repeated. I’d love to reveal a few choice tidbits of information that my nieces have told me over the years, but I won’t. I don’t want to embarrass them or the people they were talking about.
We learn from our teen years on that it’s better not to talk about certain things. We learn to camouflage our emotions and keep secrets and pretend that we’re not really being abused or feeling anxious or depressed or angry or a host of other undesirable emotions. We train ourselves to discount our feelings. It doesn’t matter. I’m fine. No – really – it’s okay. We try so hard to convince ourselves that eventually, most of us do. As we sink deeper and deeper into denial, those around us are often all too eager to buy into the lies. Which of us really wants to deal with a friend who’s having a rough time? Most of us prefer to accept the pretense that everything really is fine, even if we know deep inside that it’s not.
In these days of political correctness, we’re taught to keep our thoughts about our faith, our political beliefs, and our opinions about anything that really matters, to ourselves. And we all know what happens when the truth comes out and the press gets a hold of it – and it’s rarely pretty. So we cower. We back away from the truth and hide behind walls. We truly believe the lie that if people knew what we were really like, they wouldn’t like us. And because most of us are so unaccustomed to dealing with open, honest people, we – sadly – tend to back away from people when they do tell us more than we like to know.
We often hear the phrase, children are refreshingly honest. If that’s a compliment, and I think most often it is, then I’m thrilled to be told that the characters in my books are wonderfully appealing because they’re open, honest and real. As I “grow up” as a writer, I promise you I’ll do my best to keep that “childlike” quality in my writing. And for those of you who know me personally, I’ll attempt to be as candid as I can in my real life, too. People love my characters because they’re flawed, human, and vulnerable. Just think how much closer our relationships, marriages and families could be if we were all a little more honest with one another. We’re promised, after all, that “The truth will set you free. ” (John 8:32)