Nothing More Than Feelings

I haven’t read like this since high school. I’ve just started my sixth book and there’s no slowing me down. This week I have finished reading Eragon by Christopher Paolini. I have never had the chance to read this wonderful fantasy book before and I am glad I did. I truly enjoyed it and will read book two of his series as soon as I can get my hands on it. In a future blog I will list the books I have read thus far, each of them I would recommend. Stay tuned for that very soon.
As for my writing, I’ve hit a slump. I think the hard winter has knocked the stuffing out of me and I need to recharge somehow. While I have been reading these books I have been thinking about what goes into the creation of a truly wonderful character. The obvious is that the author needs to know the character as well as he knows himself but it’s not just about listing the character’s life events but rather what the character took away from that life event. What feelings were they left with? What experience did they take away that the character was able to apply to another event? If you have listed that your character’s father was arrested when the character was a child then ask yourself, how did they feel when, at 11 years old, they came home from school to find their father being lead away in hand-cuffs? There’s a small story in that one event and he can’t be told in just two or three sentences. Write it out. Work through the experience and discover what was learned from the event.
These feelings and experiences build up, becoming the character’s Point of View. This is the way they see the world around them. Each of your characters will come to your story with a completely different point of view based on their past experiences and that is a wonderful thing because that is what will create conflict. A loving married couple could have a disagreement about how much money to stash under their child’s pillow after loosing her first tooth. The mother may want to leave ten dollars because it’s the first tooth, while the father doesn’t want to leave more than a dollar. The father remembers when kids at school would tell him that the Tooth Fairy left them five dollars, but all the father ever got was just a quarter, and he doesn’t want his child to be that kid who brags to the other students. How the father felt as a child about only getting a quarter (for reasons you’ve yet to detail) has stayed with him through the years. It brings conflict into what may have been a simple decision.
Looking back at my own writing, I would always write out a list of life events in chronological order without thinking about how such an event would make the character feel. Now looking at my new characters I’ve come to realize that if the event is important enough to add to the list then it is obviously had an impact on the character and that impact include both the physical and the emotional. For example, when I was 8 years old I moved away from my small hometown. Like any other kid who had to face a new town and a new school, I had to make new friends. That alone can be difficult, however it was the friends I left behind that impacted me the most. While I can not gauge how this move has affected my life, I do wonder what would have become of those friendships had I not moved away. This is the sort of thing that now appear in my character’s essays. Emotions. Feelings. Hopes and dreams.
Select one of your characters and review what you have written about them. Are you like I was and it’s just a time list of events? If so, then pull out your notebook as it’s time to write. What is the character’s first event? What emotions did the character have to deal with when this event happened? Joy? Anger? Fear? What actions did the character take because of how they felt about the event? Just let your pen do what it does best. Write a paragraph or maybe three and then move on to the next life event. How did the character’s experiences with the first event affect their emotions during the second event? What were those emotions and their  affect? Continue through your character’s timeline and see how your character’s emotional point of view develops.
Don’t write the obvious. The obvious is the first thing you’ll think about and write. Throw away the obvious and then dig a little deeper. You’re is unique and his experiences need to be unique. The feelings from each event should build on all of the previous events until you get to the character you write about in your story. Now describe that character’s point of view. How does that character see the world around them? Here you will actually start with the obvious – optimist or pessimist? Now build on that. It’s okay if your character defies his past. After a hard life John is still an optimist; ever hopeful that things will one day improve. But you have to provide a reason why John is so hopeful. Audiences can empathize with John as he continues to overcome his past and look forward to the future.
I hope that this exercise brings you closer to your character’s point of view then ever before. Talking with a character doesn’t always provide an answer. Some times you have to dig deeper to find out what’s going on in their heads. Only then can you really write about them as though they are real people.
Steve
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