Tag Archives | narrator

Standing in Judgment

One of my new year's resolutions was to be less judgmental.Gavel_judge_justice_266806_l

Every single member of my family laughed hysterically when they heard this idea.  I was deeply offended by their presumption that I could never be less judgmental, even though my sister and I have raised judging others to an art form.

So I've been seriously thinking about being judgmental.  Yesterday I wrote a post about finding and sharing faults about yourself in order to be a more sympathetic narrator.  The first fault I listed was being way too judgmental.

And yet, my family is right–I see being judgmental as an innate part of who I am, and rebel against any efforts to change that, new year's resolutions to the contrary.  Because being judgmental seems like part and parcel of being a writer.  I mean, c'mon, if I make my living being judgmental how can I cure myself of it?

Are Writers Judgmental?

So, help me out here.  Do you think writers are judgmental?  Isn't it part of what we do every time we put words on paper?  Think about it.  We choose one word over another, judging that it will suit the piece better.  We create a character, and decide which details will bring her to life.  We judge that one line of dialogue will be better than another, that this description works well and the other doesn't….writing is one long string of judgments. 

In order to back this considered behavioral justification opinion up, I consulted the dictionary. Here's the MacBookPro dictionary definition of judgment:

  • the ability to make considered decisions or come to sensible conclusions
  •  an opinion or conclusion

I rest my case! I am all about "considered decisions," and "sensible conclusions!"  Yes, that is me, the considered, sane, and judgmental writer.

So why does being judgmental make me feel bad?

The Writer Confesses

Being judgmental makes me feel bad because judging someone else separates me from them.  Because there's an automatic ego thing going on–in my judgment I'm either thinking that I am better than them or they are better than me.  And in that judgment there's a removal from the present moment.  I'm trying my best to learn that all we really have is the present moment, and in this learning I see how many things take us away from it.  Because judgment is really just another form of fear, and damn it, I don't want to live a life ruled by fear.  Do you?

I happen to have a friend who I deem as being incredibly non-judgmental (you know who you are, Sue).  And she's a damn good writer, too.  So how does she transcend being judgmental and still manage to be a good writer?  I think it is because she replaces judgment with curiosity.   While I might hear of someone starting a new endeavor and think dark, jealous thoughts about how I should have had that idea and furthermore if I had had that idea I'd make a million from it, not the one paltry penny that they will make.  But Sue would hear about the new endeavor and just ask a million questions because she was just curious and interested.

Even writing about the difference in approaches I can feel the different energy they evoke.  Sigh.  So I guess this means I'm going to have to stick with my resolution to be less judgmental and just buck up and realize that it in no way means I am going to be less of a writer.  Because I will replace judgment with curiosity.  I will be sane, considered, and curious.

But I reserve the right to hold onto the other faults on my list.  Rebelling against authority now being number one.  Anybody for a writer's riot?

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Finding Faults

I'm perfect.Sharon's Flowers

I am.  I am poised, intelligent, attractive, talented, funny, loyal, passionate.  Like I said, perfect. 

And, already you are bored with me and ready to go elsewhere to read because who can relate to perfect?  Already you are thinking, well, if she's perfect than I have nothing in common with her at all and what exactly do all those general terms mean anyway?

So try this instead:

I'm not perfect.  I'm way too judgmental, not good with details, have a terrible habit of rebelling against authority just because it is authority, I veer from crazy deep emotion to extreme containment of it, sometimes I lack focus, I eat too fast, I am currently not exercising enough, I get so excited when I'm talking to friends I interrupt…

Now don't you like me a lot better?  And aren't you way more interested in me as a person?  And, not that you are not perfect, but can't you relate to my faults a bit better than my perfection?

In a post I wrote last week, I discussed the Top Takeaways from the Writer's Loft, specifically, the workshop that Richard Goodman hosted.   One exercise focused on making yourself likable as a narrator by sharing a fault.  This, Goodman said, "provides the reader some freedom."  It allows the reader to feel that the writer is like him, and creates an emotional bond.

And, it is a lot more interesting.  Conflict and imperfection is far more compelling than calm and perfection.

Alas, this is why we have wars.

But I'm a writer, not a warrior, so back to our topic.  Goodman talked specifically about finding fault in terms of narrating memoir, but it also applies to fiction.  Think Holden Caulfield or Jean Rhys (his examples).  And think, too, of the memoirs you've read in which you fell in love with the narrator.  Chances are, they had a fault or two. 

During the Writer's Loft workshop, the readings that came out of this exercise were some of the most entertaining all day.  One participant wrote of his fear at facing a roomful of college students he had come to teach, another wrote a humorous paragraph about always getting lost.  We laughed at these pieces, but we also felt a kinship with their authors.  Who hasn't obsessed over having to speak to a group of people, or gotten themselves good and lost?

In my own novel, the narrator Emma Jean is loudly judgmental, thinks very highly of herself, and gets herself into trouble by flinging herself headlong into new things.  People like her because of her faults.  (And, um, she's not based on me at all.)

So if you are writing memoir, share a fault or two with us.  We'll like you lots better.  And if you are writing fiction, give your characters some faults so that we know they are just like us.

Anybody have any suggestions of famous flawed narrators?  Feel free to leave your ideas in the comments.

***Thanks to Jessica, who left the comment asking for more information on this topic, and thus inspired this post.

And, by the way, the photo of flowers is supposed to epitomize perfection.  Not sure if you would get that or not, so I felt compelled to explain it, which means it is probably not working as an illustration.

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