Lines in the Sand
In life, people draw lines in the sand. They deliberate and decide on what and where they draw their lines. About what they’ll say, “Up with this, I will not put!”
These lines define us in that they designate the perimeters of what we deem acceptable and what we consider over the line, or going too far.
Someone in their twenties has different lines than someone sixty. The reason isn’t so much age itself, it’s more about life experience. The more we experience, the more exposure we have to different types of situations and events. The more exposure we have, the more we deliberate and decide what is acceptable to us and what is not because we have lived or witnessed what happens after these proverbial lines are crossed.
If when a line is crossed, we endure or witness a bad result, we gain insight from that experience and move our lines. This is why you see so many people change their views from decade to decade through their lives. It isn’t that they’re flip-flopping, as some like to say. It’s because they’ve learned through experience that their former view has proven to be too limited. They have experienced and now have a different perspective.
Once, that was called maturity. Now, it’s too often used as a weapon to slam a person for an altered position or perspective. Many throughout the ages have said that wisdom comes with maturity. Well, maturity comes with wisdom also, and that wisdom is the result of experience.
This isn’t to say that a twenty year old can’t be mature. He or she certainly can. It’s amazing—and sometimes disgraceful—what some in their twenties have experienced. But again, rather than years, it is life experience that determines maturity—and an individual’s reaction to that experience.
One with a solid foundation is better able to process those experiences and slot them in a constructive manner than one who lacks a solid foundation. This is why parenting is crucial. To help build solid foundations so that one has the tools to process and cope constructively with life. Without it, people get chewed up, make tons of mistakes and bad decisions, and we all know there’s little constructive in that.
Do you know your lines in the sand? Do you know the lines in the sand for your characters in your books? Since characters emulate real people, you should be able to answer both of those questions with a resounding yes—at least, to the point that you’ve had some relatable experience to draw from to aid you.
We don’t all experience everything, of course. But it’s rare that we haven’t experienced something that we can relate to a new experience and then process how we feel about it.
A big challenge for us, and our characters, is when our heads and hearts disagree. Logically, we know how we should feel. How most people feel. What most people do in similar situations. But something specific about our situation is different, adds a new dimension, brings an unusual fact to the table that tugs at our hearts. That conflict between head and heart is what drives us crazy. We’re torn between what we think and feel and what we feel we should think.
To solve the dilemma requires work. Read that, more processing and more deliberation. More analysis. Because if we act before our minds and hearts are in harmony, odds are high we’re going to make mistakes. We can’t let fear keep us from reaching a harmonious conclusion and drawing our line in the sand, but we shouldn’t draw a line in the sand until we’re firm in our decision to draw that line. Until we’ve thought through what happens after we draw that line. (Remember, every action causes a reaction. And every cause has an effect.)
For example, let’s say you’ve caught your spouse cheating. Your heart is broken and your logic is furious. Two very different emotions are aroused by this betrayal and likely a few other emotions have also engaged. What’s your line in the sand?
You might process and deliberate and decide trust has been broken and you’re done; the marriage is over.
You might process and deliberate and decide it’ll take work, but the two of you can repair trust and continue the marriage. You might or might not add: but if it happens again, you’re done and the marriage will be over.
You might process and deliberate and decide you have too much invested in the marriage or you have been married too long to start over. The marriage isn’t really a marriage anymore but you’ll stay in it because it’s easier or better for you personally to stay rather than to go.
There are other lines that can be drawn in this situation, but you get the point. Based on your personal experiences and your specific situation, you will draw your line in the sand and decide what line to draw and where to place it.
The same kind of process and decision-making occurs in your characters. In a book I once did, a man proposed to a woman. She told him she wanted to accept, but she had to first be clear. If he ever wanted a divorce, he only had to say so. She’d agree, and they’d split all assets right down the middle. If, however, he disrespected her (and running around on her would be disrespecting her), she’d take everything including the shirt off his back—even if she had to burn it all to get it.
Now that sounds pretty unromantic and like a pretty harsh to a proposal to some. But this woman had been an abuse victim. She’d had to learn to defend herself and to grow into feeling worthy of respect. This discussion showed that she had come into her own, realized and accepted respect as her right and voicing it signaled that she had value—to others and, most importantly, to herself. She respected herself and she wouldn’t accept being disrespected by anyone else ever again.
That history, or life experience, changes our perception of her line in the sand, doesn’t it?
While we all set lines in the sand, and they help us identify who we are and what we deem important and worthy of a place in our lives as well as what we will not tolerate in our lives, we also need to guard against setting a line in the sand and then not following through on it.
Naturally, we’re confronted by that challenge. When it happens, it’s never convenient. Some rationalize, say times or situations or things have changed and that’s an excuse to move the line. Sometimes that’s true, but often it is just an excuse grabbed and held on to because carrying through is hard and folding is easier for or on us.
When we compromise our principles, it rarely ends well. More often than not, we simply delay the inevitable, and that means between here and there we suffer more. We fare better in remaining true to ourselves—which means we should be slow and judicious in drawing lines in the sand. But if we choose to draw one—whether it’s one like in the above example, or in telling our kids to clean their rooms or face restriction—we need to be prepared to follow through on it. Otherwise, we lose credibility.
Fold once and it’s assumed you’ll fold again, and that means you don’t just damage your credibility by abandoning your principles, you lose it. Once lost, credibility is really hard to rebuild or repair. It can be done, yes, but it takes dedication, discipline and effort and is subject to frequent if not constant testing.
So when you create characters, be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of lines in the sand. They are flashpoints for conflict, which in novels is great. Conflict is the spine of the story. But in life, we’re not so fond of conflict. We all experience and endure it, but few find the experience pleasant.
© 2015, Vicki Hinze. Hinze is the award-winning, USA Today bestselling author of nearly thirty novels in a variety of genres including, suspense, mystery, thriller, and romantic or faith-affirming thrillers. Her latest release is The Marked Bride, Shadow Watchers, Book 1. She holds a MFA in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in Philosophy, Theocentric Business and Ethics. Hinze’s online community: Facebook. Books. Twitter. Contact.www.vickihinze.com. Subscribe to Vicki’s Newsletter.