owl in winter

owl in winter

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Developing Your Characters

Yesterday, August 23, Jan Morrill, author of The Red Kimono, spoke to the Springfield Writers' Guild about interviewing your characters. Jan brought a list of potential questions you could ask of a character and she asked us to choose one, as an exercise, and write something about that question.

I chose a question about anger. Anger is a powerful force, a strong emotion, that causes us to act or react in sometimes self-revealing ways.

And I've had a story simmering in the back of my mind for sometime, a sisters story. Whether or not I'll ever be able to write it is a question mark - I foresee me curled up on the couch with a box of kleenex and a gallon of chocolate genache ice cream, tears rolling down my face should I open the door and face it.

But, at any rate, I took the question on anger and I visualized two sisters with different lives. They're having a conversation the day they bury their mother. The reaction to "why are you so angry?" would go something like this:

"Why am I angry? I stayed here, took care of Mom and Dad and you come waltzing back in here like nothing ever changed, waving your 'I'm the oldest' flag, and now you act like you're so entitled. I'm angry with you, India. You look down on us, you think you're better with your fancy vehicle and your designer sunglasses. I'm angry with the way you make me feel. I'm angry with how I feel about you. And I'm mostly angry my life didn't turn out as pretty as yours."

Interesting. I knew the second sister was angry and resentful toward the older sister for leaving the hometown and making a life somewhere else, and I knew the second sister believed the older sister looked down on her for her life choices but I didn't realize until it spilled out, the second sister was angry because at the hue her life took when she made the choices she did.

This exercise reminded me again how important it is to give your characters depth and layers. Interviewing, asking them questions, brings ideas not known before, to the surface. It's an astonishing thing,  how the words fly from your fingertips when you let your character reveal to you what their true motives and intentions are. These revelations bring a richer, deeper dimension to your writing.

Try it. Your characters won't fail you, trust me.

Jan Morrill is the author of The Red Kimono, Doll in the Red Kimono, and Life; Haiku by Haiku. She lives in Dallas, Texas. Photo is courtesy of Jan Morrill.

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