Do characters follow you around, shadowing you with their persistent presence until you finally write their stories? They lurk half-baked, in the back of your mind, waiting impatiently until you find a way to bring them out of the shadows.
Last week I immersed myself in a craft writing workshop. Every day, there were story exercises, and luckily, I could draw from this retinue of half-baked shadows in my mind to populate my assignments. Who are some of these shadows?
- Interesting, real people—Sometimes I meet someone who fascinates me (the “why” is not always clear), and I think one day I must use him or her in a story. When the time comes to fictionalize that person, I ask myself: “What has motivated this person to bring him or her to this particular place in life?”
- Fictional characters—Sometimes there’s a character who behaves in an interesting way. This is usually a secondary character who has popped unbidden into another story. I have to ask this character: “What are you doing in my story? Why are you acting this way?”
- Myself—Sometimes I wonder who I would be if I found myself in a different time and place, under different circumstances, if I’d chosen a different turning point in my past. I’d be a different person. And I have to ask myself: “How would I react in this new situation? What would motivate me?”
There are no right or wrong answers to any of these questions! There are only unique answers, and that’s a good thing.
The author’s unique spin on what motivates these shadows will produce a unique character to populate story. The author brings his or her own experience to the subject matter, and that produces something unique. One really valuable piece of writing advice I learned in another workshop some years ago has become my mantra: “Write the story that only you can write.”
Digging deep into motivation and adding all these pieces together bring my characters out from the shadows. What are your methods?