Monday, February 10, 2014

Do you like me?



Someone I know has been reading Dale Carnegie’s book HOW TO WIN FRIENDS AND INFLUENCE PEOPLE and they read this quote to me. 

First, Carnegie Quotes Alfred Adler: “It is the individual who is not interested in his fellow men who has the greatest difficulties in life and provides the greatest injury to others. It is from among such individuals that all human failures spring.”

Then Carnegie goes on to say: “I once took a course in short-story writing at New York University, and during that course the editor of a leading magazine talked to our class.  He said he could pick up any one of the dozens of stories that drifted across his desk every day and after reading a few paragraphs he could feel whether or not that author liked people. ‘If the author doesn’t like people,’ he said, ‘People won’t like his or her stories.’”

As writers we are analyzers of people, of emotions. We take that information, break it down, then rebuild it in a fictional setting. The trick is making sure to build it realistically. Have you ever read a book and thought “wow, that author must not like people”? I have, and those books aren’t comfortable to read. It’s like looking at life through a veil of frustration and discontent.

Our work is people. Our work is knowing them; what makes them tick, how they think. How can we do that if we don’t like what  we’re studying? It would similar to someone with arachnophobia trying to do a study of Tarantulas. They wouldn’t like them enough to get near them, or care enough about them to be detailed. Why would people want to read our stories if we don’t like what we’re writing about?

We often hear of the reclusive writer, and indeed many of us would probably prefer to stay behind our computers writing than go out and lead a parade.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t like people. In fact, I would be willing to bet that writers, even the most reclusive of them, are avid people watchers. 

The person who read that quote to me did so because they worried I would never be a great writer. I was a little surprised. I may never be a great writer but it won't be because I don't like people. I do. But because I prefer to be at the back watching them, rather than performing in front of them. I would guess that this is not uncommon among writers or other artists.

So if you want to be a good writer, learn to like people. That doesn’t mean you have to be center stage, but it does mean you need to spend time among them.  And who knows, the next time you go to that activity you thought about ditching you might just end up with a great story idea.

27 comments:

  1. I can't imagine trying to write about people if you don't like people -- and like them with all their flaws. One of the things that made me an avid Anne Tyler fan is that she has such warm compassion for her characters, no matter how outrageous or dysfunctional; and she makes you feel the same compassion. it's a wonderful gift.

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    1. I love Anne Tyler! And that's one of the main reasons why. She is fascinated by people and she shares that fascination and exploration with the reader.

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  2. Great advice. I like people, but I can become annoyed with some. C'est la vie

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    1. We all know people that are difficult to get along with. I speaking more of mankind as a mass.

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  3. It is liking people, or is it more a matter of finding them interesting?

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    1. Both I think. A writer does need to be fascinated by people, otherwise they'll never know the ins and outs to make anything more than cardboard characters. But a writer must like mankind as a whole, must be able to see people in general in some sort of positive light, otherwise teh work will be too cynical and uncomfortable.

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  4. Interesting. I don't think I've ever had that reaction to a piece of writing. Does make sense though, I suppose.

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    1. I don't think they're are too many out there that write to prove their own superiority. At least not that get published and read widely.

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  5. I think yoiu can be in the background and still like people. And no, I've never read anything and thought the author didn't like people.

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  6. I'm pretty sure I like people. :-) But I'd be a little freaked out to have him read my first few paragraphs though...

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  7. Lol. Watching and observing people is a great way to gain more knowledge.

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  8. I find it difficult to like someone if they're a jerk. But that said, I can try to put myself in another person's shoes, even if I don't like them, just so I can better understand why they are the way they are. So while I don't think authors need to necessarily like everyone, I think having a little empathy sometimes can help.

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    1. We all have people we don't get along with. Being able to put yourself in their shoes shows great compassion, and a great like and trust of humankind in general. Otherwise why would you even try?

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  9. I love people! And watching them negotiate this crazy world is so much fun. That's the key behind a good story, don't you think?

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  10. That's really interesting. I don't see why a writer can't be an observer of people - that doesn't mean we don't like people, we just don't necessarily want to interact with *everyone*. On the other hand, there's no telling how far we'll go to experience something our characters are experiencing - I just read a book where the male MC goes into an arranged marriage just so he can write a book about the experience! Of course, he ends up falling for the girl anyway :-)

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  11. hmmm I'd need to find some way to prove that "reading a few paragraphs..." assertion, but I do find it intriguing. But being a liker of people is irrelevant to good storytelling. Knowing what makes them tick is what I think is essential. Just don't make me get on stage and I'll like you a whole lot more! :)

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  12. I think reclusiveness is a personality trait of many writers. I tend to be reclusive, especially when I have a lot of writing projects due. However, I would never say I don't like people. I think perhaps a combination of social interaction and alone time benefits writers--but, honestly, people fascinate me. That's the key to creating characters that come off the page--observing people and getting to the root of what makes them do the things they do.

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    1. Exactly! And I think writers do need alone time to process everything they've picked up.

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  13. I'm kind of shocked someone sent that to you and claimed you'll never be a great writer. That's terrible.

    But the rest of the post I agree with. Why write about the very thing you don't like. Of course one could make the argument that if that's true, and you don't like people, then you can write picture books about teddy bears and animals. Oh wait! Even those deal with humans. Just transformed into cute and cuddly.

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    1. It's true, even abstract books deal with human emotions and problems.

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  14. 'The person who read that quote to me did so because they worried I would never be a great writer.'

    Mmm. Sounds to me like they don't know you very well.

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    1. I maybe should have rephrased. It wasn't so much they thought I would be a bad writer, more that my reserve and shyness would keep me from reaching my full potential.

      And thanks for the ego boost!

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  16. Wow! I had a very similar conversation with my teens in the car this morning. I do like people! I hope that comes across in my writing. Who knew that liking folks could make your book more enjoyable? Great timing! Thank you!

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    1. Glad you enjoyed it. And just in case you were worried I can tell from your blog that you like people.

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  17. I agree - you have to like people, be fascinated by people in fact. You want to really know what make them tick, and when they do stuff you can't comprehend, you have to be willing to try to figure out what could have led them to such actions. But I also agree - many writers prefer to watch from the back than from center stage! THanks for this great article, it really got me thinking. Can I mention it on my blog?

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