In contemporary USA it is assumed that each of us have a solid body and everyone is separate from everyone else. And we create characters that reflect that view.
But it is true. When I look at my current life, I have been shaped by my parents and brothers, early rock and roll, grade school, the nuclear arms race, John Kennedy, the books I read, Motown, going to high school and college during the 60’s, the anti-war movement, unemployment and recession, my occupations, further reading, spiritual teachers, prayer and meditation, friends in 12-step meetings, coworkers and colleagues, customers, AIDS, the gay community and the list goes on and on. Today I am affected by colleagues, the times we live in, my housemate, neighbors, DBSA, my counselor, psychologist and my psychiatrist, 12-step meetings, friends, the books I read, church and the list goes on. If you subtract all these influences, do I exist at all?
I suspect that the reason we can identify with our characters is that our boundaries are so porous that we can identify with almost anyone alive. As Terence, the Roman playwright put it “Nothing human is foreign to me.”
I need to remember that my character are part of a vast network of relationships, causes and effects and do not operate in isolation at all. My characters are created by their childhoods, adolescence and adulthood through all the relationships, readings, experiences, teachers and prayers and reflection. To overlook this is to reduce the characters to stick figures.
Again, if I am not willing to admit the influences that have shaped me, or even created me, I run the risk of writer’s block, of not writing at all because something is missing when that something is the web in which we and our characters are just a part.