As we say goodbye to April, some thoughts on foolishness keep demanding my attention in their uncomfortable fashion. You can’t be an artist without feeling foolish sometimes. We put our best work out there only to find out that we hadn’t looked at it with enough of a critical eye. We misspell agents or editors names in our attempts to get something out even though we are submitting bleary eyed as a deadline looms. We find typos immediately after we have pressed the send button.
We also write about characters who live through raw emotions: love, hate, fear, grief, rejection, failure. If our characters don’t ever fail, then they aren’t very interesting. If a character is never a fool, then there is nothing for them to learn, no journey for them to go on. They have to want things, to try, to fail, and sometimes to be foolish in all these things as they follow their quest.
We fall in love with our characters because we share their shame as they make fools of themselves. We seek their redemption as if we are seeking our own. In a way, we are. Every one of us has played the fool, we all know how much it hurts and how hard it is to take that first step after we pick ourselves up, how hard it is to walk with a head held high when we’ve trusted the wrong person, or jumped a chasm we couldn’t possibly land, said the wrong thing at the wrong time, or stood helplessly when we should have fought like a badger.
But it’s just that foolishness that makes our readers fall in love with our characters, too. They don’t want characters who sit quietly and look pretty. They want characters they can relate to. Characters who make mistakes. Characters who play the fool. Because they’ve been there, too. We write so that we don’t feel alone. But we read for the very same reason.
So the next time you are foolish, be glad. There is a reader waiting somewhere out there for a character who is just as foolish as they are, and, because you’ve been foolish, too, you can give them that character in all his or her splendor.