“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” William James
Having recently sent this inspiring quote from the father of American psychology to a young friend in the same field, I was inspired to ponder it more deeply myself. Two words jumped out at me: “appreciated” and “craving.”
My handy Compact Oxford English Dictionary sums up the verb “appreciate” succinctly: 1) recognize the value or significance of; 2) understand fully; 3) be grateful for. And my beloved Century Dictionary captures the verb “crave” with gusto: To ask earnestly for (something); beg for; also, to long for or desire eagerly; also, to need greatly; require.
Cutting to the chase here, our boy William is boldly asserting that we all desire eagerly, nay, long for, even beg for, the gift of being valued and fully understood. True enough, isn’t it? As human beings we all yearn for this. And as writers, we long to be valued and understood – to share our ideas and visions — and have them seen as worthy.
But here’s another thought: This also applies to the people, real or imagined, who inhabit the stories we create or report. Just like the rest of us, they, too, crave understanding – they yearn to be known. Even the villains.
Take Voldemort in the Harry Potter series. J.K. Rowling could have fashioned him out of pure evil and given readers permission to hate him. But she didn’t. Instead, she gave him a fatal flaw: Having never known love, he is incapable of loving. How sad! While we cringe at his creepiness and his vindictive hate of poor Harry, we also feel pity, maybe even sympathy, for him because we understand what made him the way he is. To be unable to love – what a terrible burden.
Think for a moment about an author you admire and return to for nourishment. Chances are that author deeply understands the characters you enjoy reading about. That author approaches them, even the villains, with sympathy and non-judgment – with a sincere appreciation for their all-too human flaws and their yearnings, however dark.
Other wonderful writers who stand the test of time make their judgments and feelings about certain characters crystal clear, or convey them indirectly to us as readers – I’m thinking of Victor Hugo, for instance, or Charles Dickens. But even this authorial stance springs from a place of understanding, of hard-won knowledge about why those characters are the way they are and why they do the things they do.
So as we create or report on characters in our stories, fictional or factual, let’s remember that we’re all made of stardust – and that even the figments of our vivid imaginations yearn to be fully realized and valued and understood. Write on!
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