Within the span of a few days not too long after my wife Monica died, two strangers told me to smile. No, not told me. Commanded me. And not just “smile.” But “smile!”
The first was a fellow I passed in a hallway at a retirement home. The second was someone at church handing out Sunday bulletins after Mass.
I had thought, all things considered, I was doing remarkably well during that initial crush of grief.
After each man spoke, I lifted the corners of my lips and pointed my face at him.
Shut up and leave me alone.
I don’t blame them. Apparently, I had looked “too” sad or serious and — ho, ho, ho! — everyone needs to smile more.
Well . . . yes and no.
Yes, generally speaking. I suppose.
No, not all the time. I’m sure.
As a novelist it can help you to keep in mind there are reasons your characters do what they do when they do it. Some writers create a short biography for each character, figuring out his or her backstory. Others writers “discover” those motives as the story unfolds and the characters themselves reveal bits of their past. (Yes, this sounds odd/spooky/nuts if it hasn't happened to you as a writer. I don’t think it’s uncommon. It is odd/spooky/nuts, and I speak from firsthand experience.)
Either method, or a combination of both, can work well. Learning the better way, or proper mix, for you is a matter of practice. Of writing. And that’s what you’re doing.
And when you’re not writing . . .
It can help to keep in mind that family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors and strangers have their backstories, too. Better to be a little slower to judge and a little quicker to show compassion. Even among those we know well, we don’t know it all.
Just keep writing.