How To Approach Good Versus Bad Characterization

by Ruby Johnson

dreamstimefree_66136 (2)I’ve been told by my children that I tend to be judgmental. But I’m not near as bad about this nasty trait as I once was.
I grew up in a household where everything was either white or black. People were either good or bad. There wasn’t any in-between. That might be why I had very few dates in high school. In my dad’s opinion no boy (or his family) was good enough to date or associate with any of his daughters. That trait sort of followed me as I got older. But my husband and children all had more tolerance for people’s differences than me. They weren’t as quick to judge someone by their looks or the situation in which they found themselves.
I always found myself making a comment on some of the people I saw on TV. A newscaster with a bad comb over, another with one ear larger than the other, an actress with a hideous facelift, or an overweight woman were all getting labels from me. Of course, co-workers who led soap opera lives were a treasure trove for judging. Then I saw a picture of myself. Sure I’d put on a few pounds, well more than a few. I wondered how many people were labeling me fat and being judgmental.

So I decided on a different approach. Instead of picking out others faults and labeling them, I’d try for the middle ground and start using the writer’s technique of “what if” or “perhaps” when I found myself being judgmental about others and their situations.

What if the woman who let her kids run wild in the grocery store had a husband who had left her and she was overwhelmed.

Perhaps the woman in front of me who was driving 15 miles an hour in a 45 mile an hour zone was on her way to her daughter’s wedding with the wedding cake and she was afraid the cake would topple over and be ruined.

What if the person who dropped a dog off at our house knew we were dog lovers and would adopt the pet for whom they no longer could provide care?

Yes, I got to thinking it might be easier for me and those around me if I dropped some of my judgmental behavior and realized that the majority of time people are traveling in the “perhaps” lane of life.

So what if I started looking for the positive attributes of a person’s appearance, personality, or situation instead of the negative aspects? Maybe I’d see good characterizations unless I was writing a mystery and then perhaps being judgmental while writing a villain would be okay.

How do you approach characterization?

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