More on the idea of autofiction. Stop imposing real world morals on us writers. I am struggling with this in my own writing. How do you make a hero likable and still flawed? What is a believable level of flaw? I’ve quit reading books because I was so surprised by a character’s bizarre choices that I said, I’M OUT! How do we negotiate that line? As a fledgling novelist, it’s a question I dwell on.
WHAT MAKES A PERSON GOOD? We can create a profile using social media and essays published in popular magazines. First and foremost, a good person possesses a deep understanding of power structures and her relative place in them. She has a sense of humor that never “punches down.” She doesn’t subtweet, buy stuff on Amazon, or fly on too many planes. She has children in order to fend off narcissism—a bad quality—and develop a stake in the future of planet Earth, but she would never presume to judge another woman’s choice. And though she occasionally makes mistakes—cheats on her boyfriend, offends her friends after drinking too much, doesn’t call her mom very often—she admits them. A good person is not perfect (she has read enough not to fall for that trap), but she is self-aware. If she ever has to ask, as the title of the popular subreddit goes, “Am I the Asshole?” and she receives an answer in the affirmative, she accepts it willingly and humbly, employing a template response, provided by her therapist, to convey how she’ll do better next time. Though she could rest on her morals, a good person is always trying to do better—not in a capitalist, life-hacking way, but in terms of acknowledging and improving the lives of others. She makes sure to let others know they should do the same.
I’m skeptical of the idea of good people, but I would be. Writers are notoriously bad people, a truism pronounced most often by people who go out with writers and second most often by writers themselves. Points added for self-awareness are deducted elsewhere. “All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery,” George Orwell says in “Why I Write.”