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The Problem of Sincerity

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > The Problem of Sincerity

Happy families are all alike, said Tolstoy, but every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way. So ask yourself these questions: Are you making your characters too nice? Are they too sincere? Have you given them enough rough edges? Have you “flawed” them up? Our characters have to have fingerprints. Don’t be afraid to push them into difficult situations. They can be mean and unreliable and racist and lonely and lost and foolish and messed up — just like the rest of us. This is, after all, real life. Or at the very least its re-creation. You are making life from life, rib from rib, flaw from flaw.