Tag Archives: integrity

Psychological Writing Series: Integrity

My absolute favorite quote comes from William Backus.  In TELLING EACH OTHER THE TRUTH, he writes:

“The concept behind personal integrity is wholeness. When a person is the same without as within, when what others know about him is the same truth he knows about himself, he has integrity.”
 
I love the poetry of these words and the very clear message they send.  Personal integrity is acting out what you believe and believing what you do.  It is honesty at its finest.
 
As a child, I distinctly remember The Summer.  The one where I got caught snarking behind someone’s back.  My sister and I were visiting rellies.  Our aunt and uncle took us to visit extended family on the other side of the relations. 
 
We’d done it before and I loved the experience.  Okay, I loved the bologna sandwiches my uncle’s dad made.  He put lettuce in them and it rocked my socks off.  What I didn’t love was my uncle’s little sister.  For the life of me, I can’t remember why.  Likely it was me being a booger and not through any fault of her own. 
 
Yet, this didn’t stop me from complaining about her to my sister–in private.  I guess I didn’t realize that hiding behind a camper in the dark wasn’t private, because my aunt over-heard and I got my rear end chewed.
 
I learned a valuable lesson that day.  If you don’t have the guts to say something to the person’s face, you have no business saying it at all.  Apparently I hadn’t taken Thumper’s mom seriously and needed to learn this through my own embarrassment and humiliation.
 
Integrity.  Who am I and does the inside match the outside?
 
Lack of integrity is probably the easiest conflict we can give our characters.  Learning it through the events of a story can help our characters change and grow.  Losing it can create more conflict than we have imaginations to capture on paper.
 
INTEGRITY QUESTIONS TO PONDER
  • Can a person have integrity and still be villainous, or does integrity always mean being good?
  • Do you agree with Mr. Backus and his definition of integrity?  If not, how would you change it?
  • Can you compromise your integrity and still have it?
  • What if you are better on the inside than you show the world?  If these two don’t match, can you still be considered as having integrity?  What if the opposite is true?
  • And does it really matter if you truly have integrity or just fake it?

I like the idea of wholeness in the characters I write.  It gives me boundaries to work with so I know how they will react much of the time.  For example: my current chapter book MC only believes in the facts.  Whimsy has no place in her life.  Therefore, when she’s asked a question, her answer is always the unadulterated truth.   Makes it easy for me as a writer…not so easy for her to live with the consequences.

In my young adult novel, my MC had ideals about who she was.  They didn’t match with what she showed the real world.  Striving to reach this place in her life drove her to seek painful answers.  Her desire for integrity (and self-preservation) motivated her. 

Likewise, the antagonist in my YA exuded a smooth exterior, yet was hideous on the inside.  To make his nasty deeds ring true, I had to show small fissures in his exterior all the way through.  The hints were subtle, but there.  In this way, readers are more willing to accept the outcome.

Good, bad or indifferent, writers must maintain consistency in their characters’ behavior.  By keeping in mind the wholeness that comes along with integrity, we can create strong characters with depth.  Also, when we challenge their personal integrity, we can ramp up the conflict within our stories on an internal level that rivals any external difficulties our characters may face.

How do you use integrity to create physical conflict for your characters?  How do you challenge your character’s inner sense of integrity?  What literary examples do you have of characters with strong integrity? 

Lastly, can a good character lack integrity?

Curious minds want to know.

Psychological Writing Series: Honor

Once upon a time, I provided child care as my day job.  It allowed to me to stay home and raise my family in the way I wanted to.  After all, I had a lifetime ahead of me to work.

When my oldest kids were about four and two, I had taken my little crew of daycare children on a field trip to the store.  After purchasing our items, we prepared to leave.  Just before we walked out, the dismal sky opened up in a torrential downpour.  While I debated whether to wait it out or drag six kids into the rain, the tornado sirens went off.

We hustled back inside and gathered with the other patrons in the home goods’ section.  We cuddled pillows and prepared to pull sleeping bags over our heads to protect us from the impending disaster.

The news reported the path of the tornado over the loudspeakers. 

“…sighting four miles from town…”

“…touched down…”

“…two miles and moving fast…”

All the while, I sat on the floor with six kids in the circle of my outstretched legs.  On the outside, I talked with them, sang to them and laughed with them.  But inside, I wrestled with the greatest question of my life.

If the tornado hit the store, which children would I hold onto the tightest?  Would I hug my two babies to my chest and pray that the other four wouldn’t get swept away?  Or, would I cling to the four children in my care who didn’t have their own parents to protect them and ask God to save my own when I didn’t have the ability to do it myself?

And where is the honor in any of those answers?

Honor = integrity, respect and adherence to ethical standards.

Honor can be a huge motivator for the characters we love.  And yet, it often feels stilted, as if the writer tried too hard to make his character too noble, too good, too perfect. 

Readers often scream, “No way.  She’d never do that.” 

What we really mean is, “No way.  I’d never do that.”

You see, people are inherently flawed.  We are selfish and proprietary where our wants and needs are concerned.  It is very hard for us to set aside what we desire to do something honorable.  It’s counter-intuitive to be a loving parent and hold onto someone else’s children.  Yet, it’s unethical to vow to protect another’s child and fail to do the absolute most you can when danger swoops down from the sky.

But people do make hard choices in life and honor often leads the way.  We have firemen who walk into burning buildings.  We have police officers who take a bullet and we have everyday citizens who step forward to rescue others at grave danger to themselves. 

Honor is making a name for yourself and adhering to the standard you set out to achieve.  Sometimes we do this unintentionally and don’t even realize that living up to that name is nearly impossible.  Whose children do we hold onto, indeed?

The more integrity a character has, the more she has to lose.  This makes for great conflict in a novel.  Likewise, the realization that a seemingly average character has honor can drive a novel forward and create a satisfying climax…but only if done well.

I think too often, we have honorable characters without other flaws.  Nobody loves a goody-two-shoes in real life, and having a perfect MC will do nothing but incite a riot in our readers.  On the other hand, suddenly allowing our MCs to jump through burning hoops and plow through blizzards in a t-shirt without laying the groundwork will ring false and have readers tossing our novels in disgust.   

Readers: who is the most honorable character you’ve ever read and why do you think so?  Is it possible to have a fabulous novel with an outstanding and lovable Main Character who is not honorable?

Writers: what tips do you have for balancing a character’s personality to include a strong sense of honor?  How can we create believable honor in an unexpected hero?

All: Whose children would have gotten the tightest grip from you?  (You don’t really need to answer this.)  Is honor even possible in a situation where no matter what you choose the consequences will lead to heartache?

Curious minds want to know.