Characters that Live and Breathe

How do you write a Character that lives and breathes? Study, listen and feel. With these three directives you can create a character just as alive and glorious as any composed by the greats. As I’ve stated earlier, my characters come to me, usually at night darn them, as a feeling etched in shadow, a grief, a loss, a short-lived joy or the fear of lack. This I build into a life by listening to the feelings around them, by seeing their color as it were in order to create a shape, a body to house them in. That is part of the feeling, the listening is more to do with taking in every element of the world around you, other people’s stories, movies, books, histories and compiling a mental map of the worlds you want to explore be it Imperial Russia or the 50’s in L.A.; be in it and with it, travel if you can to get a sense of the place. Writing is often about putting your own experiences on paper seen through the eyes of someone else. So in a haphazard and erratic way I think I’ve covered the feeling and listening part, now for a more in-depth view of study.

Become a lover of words, not the words that get you from one side of the page to the other but the words that describe a tulip opening to the sun in five hundred words or more, don’t be a miser with words, squander them across the page, use twenty when you could have used five. You can edit them out later. I say this because we have lost so much of the art of writing in our modern brevity, you have the right to write and not be brief: expound, describe your imagery and bring vibrancy to your scenery. Listen to the classics read unabridged and dramatized as you move through your day. Study Jane Eyre not for the plot but for the phrase. The opening scene when she talks of cold walks, Chilblains and frost is enough to make my toes curl and the more I listen to it the more I fall in love with the magic of this style of writing. Decide who your writing is most similar to and study them. Study and perfect your style by reading, listening and write, every day, day in, day out. Words are alive so use them.

Advertisements

Where to Begin

One of the questions I’m often asked about writing is where do you begin? The truth is that I have no set method I just begin. Generally I toss my first six pages and then re-write the following six at least twenty times until they no longer resemble themselves in the least. I begin with a feeling which progresses to an emotion and then forms into a character with set feelings and perspectives. I learn from this imagined person what it is like to be them, to feel so deeply about certain issues and situations and before I know it they are telling me their story.

I recently wrote a book about a girl named Coco. She came to me as a slightly anorexic fashion student with long black hair, luminous honey brown eyes and the saddest expression you could imagine. She haunted me. I felt this deep sense of longing and loss when I thought about her and every night when I woke for my usual 3:20 a.m. mental download she was there, feeling lonely, cold and very much alone. The more I thought with her the more her story formed around her, soon an apartment came to light, then a housekeeper and then her entire life opened like a flower blooming before me. I felt my way to Coco as she felt her way to me and the result was the novel Magdalena’s Shadow which is with my editor at this moment. The point of all this rambling is that it doesn’t matter what you begin with, what matters is that you begin.

Listen to people, read about them, and talk to them. Your next door neighbor has a story that would knock your socks off and so does the crazy dog lady who walks your street each morning. Listen, be present, be compassionate towards every life you meet and let the stories come.