There's a problem I've been having, a problem that runs through my writing like some kind of insidious thread, that, once pulled, begins to unravel all those carefully constructed sentences and metaphors. Several problems, really, but a unique one in particular that I struggle with: that of making characters relate-able and sympathetic to my readers. There's a dark streak in me; I know it's there; I'll admit it. It's the side of human nature that has always fascinated me, that has drawn me like that proverbial moth to that proverbial flame--the dark side of the human condition that, in my struggle to be as open-minded in my view of the world as possible, I have begun to under-appreciate. I have been known to say (most often at parties after a few) that all people are capable of acts some might label as "unspeakable". That's right, ALL PEOPLE. We are all capable of the act of murdering another human being and we've all had thoughts--fantasies even--about doing it. I firmly believe this to be true; we are animals; we can be broken down; our facades of civility, our protective masks worn in our world of human-constructed society, can be worn away--scratched away like the silvery stuff on a lottery ticket that shows us that we really have lost the race; we can be stripped down and driven to perform those "unspeakable" acts by the pressures of our base instincts versus our socially-constructed needs. What's worse, we can begin to lose it without even knowing it.
I wrote a story, a few months back, a flash fiction piece, in about an hour, in a random moment of inspiration, and MicroHorror published it: I Used to Find Things. It's about a young boy who plays by himself in the woods behind his house and starts to see some bad things and feel some bad things about the woods. I used to play by myself in the woods behind my house growing up in much the same way. What struck me, is a comment left on the site by jsorensen that mentions the underlying plot in the piece as "the developing dark side of the boy." This got me wondering--am I writing about the birth and growth of my own "dark side"? To some extent, I believe this to be true--at least, in the developing awareness of my personal dark side. The problem is, I didn't see this element in the story when I wrote it. I saw the boy as an innocent stumbling into a dangerous world. Jsorensen goes on to say, "a part of me can empathize with the boy but hopefully not too much…".
The problem I have, then, is that when I want to write from the point of view of a disturbed character (which I guess I do since a lot of my characters seem to have this problem and what does this say about me?) I still have to be able to make him or her a rational human being with compassion and traits that make people able to feel for my character. How do you make someone feel for a character who murders somebody or purposefully steals and does a lot of drugs and stuff like that? The answer: you have to show him/her doing kind things that contrast with their detestable ones and show how they began to do these things. The keyword is, of course, "show". If you show your character doing something horrible and then just say 'by the way this is the reason,' you're not doing your job as a writer and storyteller. My issue is in accessing the 'dark side of humanity' while still evoking compassion in my readers.
I'll work on it.