Sunday, January 10, 2010

Fictional People

Developing people who pop off the pages and live in a reader's mind isn't an easy task. There are dozens of ways to build characters and give them depth. I've employed many methods, but I am by no means an expert. If I were, maybe I'd already be published.

But I am learning and growing as a writer and this is becoming easier with each new book I write. Hmmm, maybe not "easier," but I'm recognizing my mistakes more quickly and rectifying them either as I write my current WIP, or as I plan for the next MS.

My Character Illumination from Donald Maass's book WRITING THE BREAKOUT NOVEL:

Developing fictional people is mainly a matter of opening oneself to real people, mostly ourselves.


Writers are often portrayed as reclusive personalities. In years past, the writer was also portrayed as cynical, bitter and anti-social.

Do I fit the mold? Nope. And I think most of the writers I know aren't anti-social and reclusive. Oh, we have to work many solitary hours and God forbid anyone bang on my office door when I am in the middle of a hammering out a solution to a difficult scene, but most of us enjoy our peeps in the real world, too.

We're certainly not all quiet and shy beings, either. I am a talker, social and flitting around the social scene. I do thrive on people and interactions with them. I chat a lot, but I also ask questions. I listen. I hear the nuances. I bet most writers do listen. Where else do we get "voice?"

For instance, I spent a good deal of time chatting with my DH's Aunt B when we went to TX to see his father. Aunt B was a true character. Funny, opinionated, loving, caring and addicted to QVC. She heralded me with her stories about her shopping online for her Christmas gifts. And how she explained to her husband about them. And she showed me all her jewelry acquired through her shopping efforts.

But underlying her cute stories was a deeper story. One of loss. First her grown son to cancer, suddenly and inexplicably. Then her other son's escapades with marriage. And her own darling husband's sudden battle with cancer (hey, that's when the QVC shopping began). Now her brothers, my DH's dad and uncle are ill, and they are dying. And she is eager for connection with us, with anyone.

And that's the depth. Her humor, her character and her love all shine.

If I only talked, never listened, really really listened, I'd not know the depth of her stories.

That's what being in the real world is for me. Real people, their voices, their stories, their hurts, their outrages, their pain, their betrayals, their judgments and their histories. And I listen. And I bring to the table of my writing my own set of pain and betrayal and joy and history.

During the 2009 RWA National Conference, keynote speaker Eloisa James said, MINE YOURSELF,YOUR EMOTIONS. Pour yourself into the characters you are creating. They are born of you. (Paraphrased)

Learn craft, practice writing everyday, but most of all be in the world. Be in the world. Pour yourself into people, learn their worlds and share of yourself.

Be real in the world and your people will be real in your fictional world.


11 comments:

M.V.Freeman said...

What? I can't be a recluse!
I was hoping I would turn into a raving solitary writer...
*sigh*
You know, that is so true what you are saying.

I loved that you listened to "Aunt B"...I see a lovely character there.
Back to my own internal insanity...

Christine said...

You know I am soooo making a character out of Ms. B.
She is soooo cool. And a real true life god you want to love her character.

MaryC said...

Interesting post, Christine. One of the reasons I'm toying with middle grade fiction is because all day I'm hearing the experiences, cares and concerns of 9-10 year olds. You bet I know their voices. ;)

Christine said...

Mary, one of my CPs write Middle Grade fiction (published 2 books) and is also writing women's fiction. She has such a great voice... mom of three boys.

I think you're on the right track! I'd start a journal ... ;)

marthawarner said...

This is a fabulous post, Christine. I know that if it weren't for my real world, the fictional one would fade away. All of my inspiration and motivation comes from the here and now... and those I've come to both love and despise.

Great insight.

Christine said...

Martha, thanks! I wish I could call the insight my own, but I feel Donald Maass and Eloise J have the corner on that idea. I had the great pleasure of hearing EJ speak at the RWA conference and she truly hit a nerve for me.

Mine your emotions. Good and bad... Oh tough to do... but the characters breath to life when we do it!

Ellen B said...

Thanks for this post, Christine, you make a really good point.

I was at a writing workshop once in college and a visiting poet asked us all to think about, and write about, the sounds that would have been around us in our earliest life. That wa sthe first time I realised one of my relatives has quite a unique way of expressing himself - and you can bet I'm going to be using that sometime!

Christine said...

Ellen, I love that exercise. I am going to use it in my writing. What a great way to remember the past. I'd add smells as well. So many memories are sense memories. The smell of popcorn, a sulphuric acid cloud near a mining town, a special cookie/cake or pie only your mom/grandma/whoever baked, chlorine in the summer mingling with suntan lotion...

Christine said...

And M.V..... you can be a recluse... some of the time ;)

Gwen Hernandez said...

Great post. I finally let my dad read COY, and one of his comments (they were mostly good, cuz he's my dad, but...) was that my characters were all so nice. He also mentioned that another scene needed more emotion.

He was right, but I still sometimes have trouble seeing it. I told him to wait until Floater was done. Nonstop mean people. ;-)

Christine said...

Yeah, the meaner the better! Well, first we tie things up with a bow, and then we unravel it. I think our peeps are good people, but they are flawed. The trick is moving them through the story without losing the reader.