Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I've Been Thinking...

About a lot of things the last few days. Good things, of course. It's a new year and open to so many possibilities.

There's the fact that it's supposed to reach 13 degrees today. In Calgary! In January! Almost felt like I could go outside in a tank top. I didn't of course, cause it's not 13 yet...but still. It's bright outside, so sunny it makes the heart sing and makes me dream of summer.

And of course my mind is full of writing related thoughts. Like this morning, I am thinking about character development and the things that make a person who they are. And how some of those things and the reactions of the character to a certain situation can be so contradictory to the norm. Yet, if we build the character well enough, their contradictions can seem reasonable.

Early on in writing, we are taught the basics. You know, things like:

What the character looks like?
Hair colour?
Eye colour?
Distinguishing features?

Then we are told to dig deeper.

When is your character's birthday?
Did they finish high school?
What is there relationship with their parents?

And we need to know information about the parents too. Because depending on the generation, parents leave different impressions, scars, on their children. So we ask all the same questions about the parents and piece together the influence they may have had on your progtagonist. Like, what if the parents were raging alcoholics? That would certainly have a different impact on the child compared to a child raised by devout Catholics. (or Mormons or Hare Krishnas or Wiccans) What if your character lost their parents? Or one parent? What if there is a long line of mental health problems? The list could go on.

But what about the difficult things that influence our lives. The choices we've made, the horrible outcomes, the things we lock deep in the shadows and very few know about it? I think we all have them. Those cliched "demons in the closet".

Our deepest, darkest secret that we only share with the people we trust. Think about that one thing (or maybe there's more, but pick one). How has that incident shaped who you are? Was it something that was bad in the eyes of the law or something that is just bad in your own eyes? Does that memory surface on a regular basis? Or have you healed from it and can safely move forward?

Now think about your protagonist. What is his/her, darkest secret? How has that incident shaped who they are at the time of the story? This is where depth comes from. Is your character stronger because of it? Or is she weak? Timid? Afraid?

Are you stronger because of your personal experiences? Or are you afraid and go to the bottle every time things get difficult?

Take that scary stuff and work with it. Your characters will thank you for it. And so will your readers.

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