As I introduce and develop my characters I find a parallel to what Karen Armstrong speaks of in her book, The Spiral Staircase, My Climb Out of Darkness. For those who are unfamiliar with the author of A History of God, the author failed to find faith in a convent, but discovered God in her study of world religions. Some of her observations in the final chapter of Staircase can be applied to writing.
...editing out ego is—I now realize—an essential prerequisite for religious experience.
We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.
How true. The process of bringing my characters out of darkness is indeed a spiritual experience. I have to leave myself at the door when I enter the places they inhabit, and that has been a joy.
But the ability to sense those possibilities also requires the writer to leave personal bias at the door.
If you are bent on proving that your own tradition alone is correct, and pour scorn on all other points of view, you are interjecting self and egoism into your study, and the texts will remain closed.
Here the author is referring to the ability of a scripture or a poem to speak to a reader, but she may as well be describing the terms under which a character will develop and grow and tell his story to the writer.
On the four hour drive home from my retreat, I studied my character and allowed him to reveal his next move, which had far more integrity than what I would have written for him. That’s the beauty of the art.