When you build a character, you are really fueled by curiosity not answers. ~Andre Dubus III
I believe Andre Dubus III put the art of building characters in perfect perspective. We as writers are indeed driven by curiosity. It is our ‘watching’ of the world, and those around us, that constructs who our characters are and ultimately become. Even in our minds, we watch them, the characters who live in our imaginations.
When we allow the stories in our heads to tell themselves with an organic voice, we become witnesses, and thus stenographers if you will. We find our characters behaving naturally in their environments, shocking us with the choices they make, the thoughts they have, the people they connect with, their mannerisms.
Curiously, we keep our eyes on them, jotting down every detail. We watch. We build. It becomes like a game of Jeopardy. We have the answers to who and why. The story that we write around these ‘answers’ is where the questions come from.
The stories themselves are actually the questions.
HERE ARE 3 PRACTICES TO KEEP IN MIND WHEN BUILDING CHARACTERS
- WATCH: Take the time to watch your characters perform within your imagination. This doesn’t require actual writing but focused observation. Feel free to jot down notes from what you see but not so much to work your story (unless it is a scene that belongs in the story). What you are witnessing is getting you familiar with the nuances of each character’s personality.
- LISTEN: Pay close attention to what your characters are saying during these moments of focused concentration. The tone they use with the server at a restaurant does give you a clue as to how they would or would not respond to their ex if they called out of the blue.
- BUILD: Take what you’ve seen and heard during these moments and use them as tools for while you are writing. You build with knowledge. You gain knowledge from learning to understand, and understanding comes from watching and listening.
For some more tips on character building, and character watching, read my article and writing exercise titled, Coffee with Character…or Tea.
~Dream. Imagine. Believe. Do. CONQUER!