This post is a shout out to Carol, the nice customer service person who handles my federal loans. Thanks, Carol. Though you may never see this, I remember you fondly.
So much of our lives depends on random acts of kindness.
I wouldn’t say that kindness is something that comes naturally to me all the time. Kindness is different from not being a jerk, of course. I’m mostly okay at not being a jerk, because I think it takes some effort to intentionally try to piss people off. This means that I try to be conscious of when I would, in fact, be pissing someone off, and I don’t do that thing. Unless I think it might be beneficial to piss you off anyway, for reasons. It’s not that I’m against conflict, or that I tiptoe around people, just that I don’t want to make your day terrible in order to make my day better.
Kindness, to me, is a little bit more than that. If not being a jerk is the baseline of human compassion, kindness is a level up. It is taking the time to put yourself into someone else’s headspace, someone who may not have your wants or values or concerns, and realizing that, that thing you were doing? The thing you really wanted to do and enjoyed? Maybe you should take it somewhere else, or cut it down a notch, because you are hurting this person and it is not helping anyone. Kindness is when I go out of my way, to no real advantage of my own, to do you a favor and make your day better. I like to think that I am kind sometimes. Regularly? Probably not.
I’m certainly not always kind to my characters. But here’s the deal. I’m not always a jerk either.
I think there are certain genres that lend themselves, at least a little, to throwing your character under a bus just to keep things interesting. This is a terrible thing. There’s so much missed opportunity in that. I like to throw my character under a bus, but it should serve a purpose other than just to keep things interesting. It should take your character somewhere. Or take another character somewhere as they watch their friend die horribly. There should be an emotional transformation, a natural jumping off point. Jack was hit by the bus, and now the plan to save the world is bust because Mary needed his strong arms to wrestle the troll guarding the portal to the world tree…or something. Being a writer means that you can’t just be mean to your characters for no reason, but you can’t be kind to them either. At least, not too often.
Sometimes, it’s important to let them heal. It lets your reader heal, too. Really everything you’re doing to your characters, your doing to your reader, too.
So sprinkle in that kindness when it’s right and good.