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Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Oopsie! Why being wrong is a good thing.

If there's one thing that people everywhere can agree on, it's that we don't like making mistakes and we don't like being wrong.

Of course, there are those who say that being wrong is a good thing. It points in the direction of what may be right, it teaches us more than being right can, blahblah. That's all well and good, but I'm not talking about having a scientific hypothesis shot down and some other mathy/sciencey what-have-you wrongness. I'm talking about being wrong in a very personal way. In a way that shakes us, embarrasses us, exposes us. Wrongness that makes other people want to look away.

We've all been there. Whether it was something big or small, or something we've completely blotted out, we've been there. This sort of fallibility is a defining part of being a living, breathing and, most importantly, dynamic being. The desire to want to move past it quickly, to look away when others are exposed by wrongness, is strong and instinctive -- but it is also a bane to good writing.

You have to push past it as a reader and, perhaps an even harder task, as a writer. You need to let your character be wrong.

Being wrong is going to make your character more interesting, more complex and give you the opportunity to define them. How were they wrong? What got them there/caused them to be wrong? How do they react to being wrong? How do others react to it? The wrongness needs to come from an organic, believable place -- and when it does, it's going to provide you with one of the greatest "Show, Don't Tell" opportunities you could have. Being wrong leaves us exposed, creating a situation in which little can be hidden. The vulnerability of wrongness reveals truth with more impact than narration can. Just think of Elsa.* When she slips up and her powers get out of her control, she can no long conceal and not feel -- she let's it go. And in doing so the viewer and Elsa herself learn more about Elsa -- and she is able to grow because of it.

Poor Elsa's not quite ready to let it go, yet.
I struggle with this. I hate being wrong and, therefore, really hate my characters being wrong. It's uncomfortable. It makes me squirm. I want to avoid embarrassment at any cost. I'm that person who can't watch even the American version of The Office because it makes me physically uncomfortable to be embarrassed for others. But I'm powering through it (my writing, not The Office) because the last thing anyone wants to read is another gosh darn Mary Sue.

Still unconvinced? I'll just provide you with my favorite example: Harry Potter. Rowling was not afraid to allow Harry to be wrong and make mistakes. He starts the series as an 11-year-old boy, so, naturally, he makes a lot of them. They range from small (the midnight duel) to huge (the Department of Mysteries) and they're part of what makes the character seem so real and, in turn, the series so entirely engrossing.

*As in, from Frozen. Which I am a super nerd for, because I love stories about sisters.

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