Some say that writers see the world differently, which I think is a little misleading. It implies that a writer was born with some insight, some secret view to the world that readers of the world don’t share.
Then again, I agree with the saying because I think that the more you seek to write well, the more changed you become. And as you seek to grow in writing, you are forced to look at things differently.
A writing lesson I’m glad to continuously relearn is one I first learned when I had dreams of Broadway. Yes, once upon a time I liked to act. And like most people, initially I sucked at acting. My instructors always casted me way against my type, and my performances were always more than a little stilted until I learned one huge lesson:
You can’t portray someone if you’re judging them.
If you don’t accept your character’s motives and project them, no one will believe your acting from fifty rows back. To get on stage or in front of a camera and really make people believe you are someone, you have remove your judgments on who you think they should be, and just let them be. You are the canvas. They are the paint. And for that time you are portraying that character, everyone should sense their motivations and goals through you with absolutely no apology for them.
The same goes for writing a character: If you judge the character, you can’t write him/her well.
Then again, if you don’t judge the character and proactively filter out some of their less redeeming qualities to make them more palatable, people may judge you. To understand that possibility and write their story anyway? That takes guts.
After all, most readers assume that books and characters are autobiographical. If your character does something, readers will assume you have, too. And how many writers have readers come up and tell them, “I pictured you as the main character the whole time”?
People judge you based on what you write. It’s an undeniable fact. So it only makes sense for an author to pre-judge characters to make sure they pass the snuff of representing them on paper before digging into the commitment of writing on the character’s behalf.
Back to the point of those who say writers see the world differently, it does take a rare person to tell the story of someone they disagree with—to look into a soul and see why it is the way it is to such a level that everyone who reads what is told from that character’s perspective assumes the author is similarly minded.
Just like an actor has to go on stage and represent their character like the true hero of the script—even if they’re the "bad guy"—a story rises in its potential when the author lets a character walk and talk and think authentically, with no judgment from the teller of their story.
Moving into a judgment-free zone is not a task for all writers (or actors, really). Some have no aspirations to do this at all. They are content to portray people like them as the good guys and people they cannot relate to as two-dimensional bad guys. This requires little imagination and no growth for either the reader or the writer.
But to those out there looking to see the world a little differently, I have this challenge: If you wish to grow in the craft, write about someone you don’t understand. Tell their story—even if you never choose show it to a soul. Don’t apologize for the character’s behavior, but seek the why of it. Make every character a hero in their own eyes, define how their goals influence their actions. Are the bad guy’s goals really any different than your hero’s? In the end, do they really want the same thing? Opposite things? If opposite, why?
It’s an amazing and fascinating process. And after a person does this a few times—any person—I really do believe they begin to see the world differently.