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Characters must have character

hwabuttonGreetings and Salutations loyal readers of the blog,

I promised to fill you in on my ghostly interviews.  At first I thought I’d hit a gold mine of information.  It seems that the few who were willing to talk to me have died dreadful and violent deaths at their own hands, either on purpose or by excesses of one thing or another.   The  famous people who came to chat me up, died tragic deaths.  George Eastman (shot himself), Sid Vicious(overdose), Arshile Gorky (hung himself), Ernest Hemingway (shot himself), Diane Arbus (slit her wrists).  I was struck by the one thing they all had in common.  Their own powerlessness, some wanted to change the world, some just wanted to change their own little corner of the world.  They all suffered at the hands of their own internal demons.  Their souls were tortured beyond our ability to comprehend.  As a writer I am neither comfortable or capable of doing their stories justice at this time.  Listening to them seemed to provide then with some peace, if only temporarily.  I can’t say.  The unconsecrated cemetery is full of stories of talented people who could not find a way live in the world.  We can not change the past, but we should not blind ourselves to it either.  Listen to living, do not judge, just offer a different perspective.

On that soulful note I’d like to talk about character development today.  In my humble opinion it is the character of your characters that drives the story.  It has been said, there are only a few original plots in the world and they have been done over and over.  What makes each story original are the characters, or combination of characters, you choose to walk us through yours.

With that in mind, how do we get to know our characters so we can be true to them throughout our piece, be it flash fiction or a great literary tome.  There are many ways to do this, but one of the most interesting I’ve found is this.  Write your character into a scene that has nothing to do with what you’re working on.  For instance let them take you to lunch.  Where would they choose to meet you?  What would they order?  What do you talk about over lunch?  The SOB that is keeping them from achieving their goals, or maybe what a slug you are when it comes to writing down how they really feel.  Are there cocktails?  Do they pick up the check or leave it for you?  Are they generous tippers?  How do they treat the wait staff?  Do they order from the menu or do they have to dissect the ingredients leaving half of them off and the other half totally unrelated to what was ordered.

I’m thinking of the scene from Five Easy Pieces, when Jack Nicholson tries to order toast in a diner.  When the waitress says he can’t order toast he orders a chicken salad sandwich on toasted wheat.  He then tells the waitress to hold the lettuce, hold the tomato, hold the mayo and finally hold the chicken.  This short scene is insignificant in the overall story arc, but it tells you reams about the character.  For one he is someone used to getting what he wants, and will go to great extremes to get it.  You have to watch the entire scene for yourself to get all the character nuances.

I’ve also found this exercise can help when you’ve written yourself into a corner.  Go shopping with your protagonist, where would they shop Rodeo Drive, Wal-mart or REI Outfitters.  Have your antagonist write a letter.  What would he/she say to a friend?  What would they say about another character in your piece.  Or apply to an exclusive club or college, what assets would he/she emphasize, even more telling is what they wouldn’t say.

Sounds like great fun, no.  Of course if your like me you’ll say, but I hardly have enough time to write now.  This will only pull me away from the important stuff, IE that great literary novel the world is waiting for.  My experience is this, when my characters voice comes easy, the writing goes faster and is painless.  When I’m searching for the right word for my character the writing trudges along a dreary path that never seems to change.  So change the scenery maybe it will help.  With that I leave you with a quotation from Jim Morrison.

People fear death even more than pain. It’s strange that they fear death. Life hurts a lot more than death. At the point of death, the pain is over. Yeah, I guess it is a friend.

write On,

Eerie Dwarf

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