My son just exposed me to a new word, which now enchants me: sonder. According to the Dictionary of the Obscure, it is “the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.”
I have always intuited this idea, but never put it to words like this. We are in this life together, but living it uniquely. It is brutish to expect that others will live their lives as we do, to have the same values and purpose as we have. How could they? Their experiences of life are distinctive to them. We must embrace this concept of individual perspective, in life and in our writing.
This concept will now more consciously inform my writing. I make it my habit to know my characters inside and out, as complete creations, not as cookie-cutter personae who simply do what I need them to do on the page. With this concept in mind, I will be more aware of how life experiences can be diametrically different for each person involved, depending on their perceptions.
In grad school, I wrote something that I thought incredibly profound, but which my roommates and friends found remarkably inane. I think, perhaps, it was my version of “sonder”: I think everyone in the world is exactly as I am, except those who are different, warped versions of the universal type, which is me.
Okay, not quite as profound now as it seemed then. But therein lies truth. I stand by it.