From pop psychology, we find that when we have a negative trait, we are more likely to see it in others. In doing so, we are less likely to think we have the characteristic.
Yesterday, I was sitting in a writer’s meeting. Everyone there was a local writer with varying degrees of experience. There was one writer in the meeting who interrupted others and went on about himself, his background, aspirations, and experience. He has yet to publish a word.
I would have found him more annoying if I didn’t realize that if I don’t watch myself, I have the same traits. I have to restrain myself from changing conversations from being about others to being about me. Interestingly, a doppelganger, a double of a living person, was sometimes portrayed as a harbinger of rotten luck in German mythology.
Other cultures had similar terms for doubles, they usually had a negative connotation, as well.
As I listened to my (psychological) double go on, I began to wonder how my traits affect my writing. Do I give some traits as negative and others as positive? Which ones do I keep for exceptional treatment and why?
To the extent I do that, my characters would probably take on a sameness that would flatten them. Instead of having each character be unique, they might be identical to others. In other words, do all my heroes sound the same, and do my villains resemble each other? To develop realistic characters, then, I have to examine myself to assure that I am not building them as a positive or negative likeness of myself.
This leads me to thinking about Socrates, who had a reputation for talking too much. He suggested that ‘the life which is unexamined is not worth living.’ Perhaps that applies to writers doubly.
A full quotation is: Someone will say: Yes, Socrates, but cannot you hold your tongue, and then you may go into a foreign city, and no one will interfere with you? Now I have great difficulty in making you understand my answer to this. For if I tell you that this would be a disobedience to a divine command, and therefore that I cannot hold my tongue, you will not believe that I am serious; and if I say that the greatest good of a man is daily to converse about virtue, and all that concerning which you hear me examining myself and others, and that the life which is unexamined is not worth living — that you are still less likely to believe.