Valentine's Day is just around the corner and that got me thinking about one of my favorite things - chocolate. We all know the iconic "Life is like a box of chocolates ..." line from the movie Forrest Gump, but as I put the finishing touches on my newest Heartwarming manuscript, I realize the same can be said about people. Everyone we meet is always more than we see, their story bigger than the little slice we happen to share with them.
I think that's what I love about both my professions. As a social worker, I get the see the many layers of a person, a family, a given situation. The troubled kid, who always has a smart remark for the teacher but never has his homework done, could easily be written off as a no-good punk. But I know that his father left when the boy was a baby and his mom's been addicted to pain killers for a few years now. The boy says he hates school, but he's never missed a day. He certainly never misses a social work appointment and is mad if I'm the one who cancels. He has hopes and he has dreams. He's afraid and he's angry. He makes a lot of bad choices but wants someone to care.
Then there's the shy girl who would love to fade into the background if people would let her. To most, she's unremarkable. She only has one or two friends in a school of over seven hundred students. But I know she loves anime and can tell you everything there is to know about one of the series. She can draw the characters as well as the original artists. She also writes her own stories about these characters on a fan-fiction website. She's really excited to have a dozen people reading her stories and dreams about being a writer someday.
As a author, I get to create characters who have similarly complex backgrounds. The hero and heroine are the ones I want people to root for, but they each have their flaws. Sometimes they're too stubborn for their own good, sometimes they aren't as confident as they seem. They make bad decisions and have regrets. The so-called villains in my stories might make you angry, but they have their own set of problems and even a few redeeming qualities. Maybe they're caring for a sick parent or their heart has been recently broken.
Now, I will admit, sometimes my editor needs to remind me of these things. My characters need to be colored in a little more during my revisions. Everyone should have a story to tell, even those little background characters.
I think it's a good lesson in writing and in life in general. People are definitely like a box of chocolates, you never know what you're gonna get. That plain looking square chocolate in the box is usually the one filled with the most delicious caramel. And the one with the beautiful swirls on top, ugh, is filled with coconut (not a coconut fan!)
Remember that the next time that seemingly annoying person is vying for your attention or when you feel envious of that neighbor with the picture perfect family who must have it all. Everyone has a story to tell. Sometimes, we just need to ask them to tell it.