What Are My Characters Really Like?

May 11, 2011

On Wednesdays, I'll cross-post my blog from Routines for Writers here…

When I read Shonna's post from Friday on the writing book Fiction is Folks by Robert Newton Peck, I was struck by one of her quotes.

As you mature into a professional writer, you will do well to study the way people really are. Not what they ought to be. p.9

When I say “struck,” I really mean “smacked across the side of the head.” Ouch! I've known for years that one of my biggest problems as a writer is that I tend to see people as they almost are, as they could be, and sometimes as they ought to be. It's one of the things that scared my mom the most when I was growing up. I wasn't as interested in nice, well-adjusted boys. I wanted to save the peripheral boys. I could see what great people they could become…later. I was the Boy Rescuer.

Now as it turns out, I married a boy in whom I could see a world of possibilities and promise. 🙂 He grew into a pretty fantastic man over the years (21 of them last week!). But I read that quote from Peck and I thought, oh man, if I'm unwilling to see real people as they really are, how in the world will I ever train myself to see my pretend people as they really are?!

But the other side of the coin is that I've had a good life and been a good friend to people by believing in who they could be. Surely there is a way to leverage that positive characteristic into my writing. I think it's time to go back to my character diamonds and look at the characters' arcs.

In fact, this just occurred to me as I was typing – what if I overlay the character arc in four words across the three acts? Over Act One, say a character is clueless. Then over the first half of Act Two the character becomes curious. During the second half of Act Two the character gets frustrated with her lack of progress or overconfident with her apparent progress. And finally in Act Three, she becomes caring and confident. This is pretty close to the character arc for Alicia Silverstone's character in Clueless.

Okay, this is why I write! Because if I just keep going, I tend to find some answers! LOL! 🙂 I'm so excited! I have to go write now!

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