Some writers seem born to the truth. They reveal the ugliest sides of their characters, the selfish, perverted, or even violent thoughts we all have, whether we cop to them or not. They don’t shy away from portraying the worst of life. They may even show their own ugliness, or discuss events their friends and families would rather not be held out for public scrutiny.
Others have more difficulty. Their characters have foibles and flaws, but no quality so awful it can’t be cured by the end of the novel. Their family secrets are kept hidden.
Your mileage may vary on this on, but I lean towards the truth, as harsh as it can be. There is something both exhilarating and affirming in reading about a character who is selfish, who wishes harm on someone, who twists a narrative to their own gain. Perhaps it’s wish fulfillment. Though we rarely admit it, many of us wish we had the nerve to take our due, so it can be cathartic when a character like Tom Ripley clubs Freddie Miles to death, after having endured Freddie’s taunts about his finances and friendships.
Today, practice writing difficult truths. Give your characters permission to be as awful as they can be. Journal about your own negative feelings about someone, an event, or a community. If you’re able, document your trauma.
Give yourself the freedom to be ugly. Practice no-holds-barred truth telling.
Remember, what you write today is between you and the blank page. No one else needs to know about it. This exercise is for you, your imagination, and your ability to process and fictionalize the ugly side of life.