How many times have you finished reading a book or watching a movie or something on TV and been utterly moved by the story? Because you’ve been drawn into the life of the characters.
Well, not characters – as Hemingway tells us, ‘characters’ aren’t what novelists should create. Novelists should create people.
Of course, it’s easy to say that – it’s easy to write ‘you should create people’. Actually doing it – well, that is another matter. The dissonance between saying and doing gives the truth to the old adage that those who can, do; those who can’t usually teach.
As always, the way to make it happen comes from experience – from the doing. And it’s not a quick learning curve, necessarily. But I thought I’d outline some ways of starting along that path.
Think about yourself. Do you think of yourself as a cluster of characteristics? Of course not. Psychologists love to break people down to lists or classify them in arbitrary pigeonholes, but the reality is that our consciousness and the life we perceive, lead and experience is a whole thing. It is only perceived as bits and pieces from outside.
That is the difference, for writers, between a ‘character’ and a ‘real person’.
The issue, then, is not why does Character X always wear a red sweatshirt – but how that relates to the rest of them? The key word is ‘integration’. And then being able to express that in writing – which, as we’ve been exploring in past weeks, is a linear thread, not a blob of simultaneous concepts.
Novelists, inevitably, have different ways of tackling that. Hemingway set the standard – to my mind, one that has never been surpassed. Jack Kerouac had a slightly different tack to the same end
The way both did it was by expressing streams of emotion – consciousness – firmly set at the intersection between their character and the environment and events
You’ll notice I said nothing about plot. That’s almost irrelevant to character in some senses – more about that later.
Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013
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