I was just up in Ojai for a few days. R&R for my wife, not me. I don’t need no stinkin’ R&R, but Bianca works 8-5 like a real person while I sit home and try to rhyme the word “orange” with . . . well, something. I’m convinced it can be done.
Ojai is still the home of a Krishnamurti center. Mr. K. was a very smart guy with no narrow agenda about spirituality. (He’s worth reading about.) Here’s my favorite Krishnamurti story: he leaves the small community of disciples (though he didn’t like followers) for awhile and when he comes back this guy we’ll call Joe is missing. Mr. K. asks where Joe is and learns that the others have asked him to leave. Joe was a pain in the ass: selfish, overbearing, and a general killjoy. Mr. K. goes right into town, finds Joe and brings him back, pointing out that Joe was the one person everyone could learn from. To someone like Krishnamurti, a well-oiled community with no conflict was a sign of narcosis brought on by self-satisfaction.
Here’s the point — where in your stories or novels or picture books is Joe? Where’s the thorny, difficult person everyone has to live with?
If you’d like an exercise, try this one: have every important person in your story carry on a conversation with Joe. Write fast. I think you’ll be surprised when a character you thought of as sweet and benign turns out to hate Joe while some recalcitrant s.o.b. reveals a tenderness and understanding you never suspected was there.