Saturday, April 28, 2012

getting to know your characters

I've always been in awe of how one of my favorite authors Dostoevsky orchestrates such large casts of characters whose voices are distinct and constant (except when he intends to have them break their character mold, which they often do for various motives) and whose personalities can become as real and close to you as your own familys' and friends'.  Give him just one, two or three characters to work with, and he manages to go deeper than you ever wanted into their every crevice.  Your characters were not built in a day.  Remember that they have years of experiences, aspirations, traumas, etc. behind them.  Even if they're brand new, there's history in the world they live and the generations of shoulders they're standing on.

I've heard a number of ways to get to know who it is you are writing through, and about, in your story.  Of course, there is a plethora of inspiration in the real-life characters all around us.  We can draw from our own individual characteristics in different phases of our life.  Often our characters will be a similitude or mish-mash or an extreme version of people we know in real life, or wished we knew, or wished we didn't know...

Last night, our fearless leader Paul mentioned going through a hypothetical interview with each character, asking them questions and thinking of what they would answer, to get a sense for the voice of the characters.  I wondered why I had never taken this idea to paper, as I'm always thinking more about characterization and character development than of plot. (An important side note: remember that setting can also be treated as a character in itself that changes depending on whose point of view we are seeing through.  Setting has been described as simply the opinion of a character of where he/she is.)

Admittedly, some weak points of mine (somewhat uncharted territory for me), are dialogue and showing rather than telling.  Telling is easier.  There are times when telling is appropriate and necessary.  It's also usually a lot more boring, when it comes to knowing a person.  In this, I have to challenge myself to write longer, write more, to illustrate who this person is through examples of how they respond to life, rather than omnisciently splurging their hopes/dreams/fears and attitudes right away.

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