I often credit my mother for my desire to climb into the heads of different characters and view the world from their eyes.
Like any kids, my sister and I would occasionally argue when we were youths. When this happened, there were never any timeouts or groundings in my house. Rather, my mother would lead the two of us to the den and close us in.
I know what you’re thinking….steel cage match. But, no. Before shutting the door behind her, my mother would leave us with very specific instructions. We were to continue our argument. Only now I had to pretend to be my sister and she had to pretend to be me. Basically we had to argue the other person’s side.
Once she left us alone, my sister and I would try to follow the rules laid out for us. I would say that, in these situations, it was probably a pretty even split between times when we ultimately saw validity in the other’s argument and found a compromise, and times when we just got confused and tired from trying to remember which side we were on. But one thing was sure, when we walked out of that room, we weren’t fighting anymore.
This quirky parental choice not only saved my sister and me from a number of prolonged battles, but it also left me with an interesting writing tool. Whenever I’m writing and I hit a block where my brain stops working with the story, I pick two characters from it, select a topic related to the story and then argue it from both sides. Even if this doesn’t tell me exactly where I want to go next with my tale, it does solidify the personalities of the characters in my head and gives me a better idea of their strengths and weaknesses.
Little did I know, all those years ago, as I stood across from my sister (trying to push the knowledge that I was totally right out of my head, so I could concentrate on her side of the argument), that I was building helpful working tools. Huh. Guess parents really do know what they’re doing.