I often ask the lawyer-writers I interview why there are so many lawyer-writers, but it has occurred to me recently that all writers are lawyers of a kind. Who are our readers but a jury of our peers whom we must convince of our character’s guilt or innocence by showing the facts we call events, dialogue, and action? After all, no lawyer would stand up in court and merely tell the jury, “Look at my client. I’ve seen a lot of guilty people in my life, and you can trust me – she is not one of them. I rest my case.” The difference is you have no opponent, and the jury wants very much to believe you. They want to believe you because it is not your characters’ innocence on trial, but your reader’s. Your reader will become every character as you became those characters, and to show your reader guilt or innocence is to allow her to go within herself and feel her own guilt and innocence so that she might put a name and feeling to what she has beheld.
And your reader desires guilt every bit as much as she desires innocence. The guilty in your stories will eventually suffer and maybe even die. All the guilt within your reader is a story she has forgotten to stop telling. When your guilty character perishes, for a moment the story of your reader’s guilt will perish as well, and she will perceive within herself the reality of life without the story of her imaginary guilt. For a moment, she will be free.
Free to become your innocent hero. Innocence cannot be taken from us by mere actions. Only the story we tell about those actions deprives us of our innocence. We put our stories on trial and condemn the worst stories to prison where we hope they will never be told again. Meanwhile, the hero within us is always free because only the hero believes he is free. His freedom is the only story he can tell – freedom to choose any book, any career, any city – a freedom so complete he will occasionally put himself in prison so he might once again seek himself.
Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. "A book to keep nearby whenever your writer's spirit needs feeding." Deb Caletti.