I’ve been thinking a lot about my life recently. Specifically, experiences I’ve had that, while mainly forgotten, definitely went on to shape my outlook on life, as well as my thoughts and actions in any given situation. As we grow older, I think writers learn that it’s our own lives that contain the biggest treasure trove of ideas. While writing about completely different characters, we can instill some aspect of ourselves, even if it’s just one small experience from a time long, long past and only recently remembered.
While I’m not sure I’d go so far as to say that writers get to experience do-overs, we do get to delve into, re-shape and even re-construct a scene from our past in any way that we want for our character, if not exactly for ourselves. So maybe it’s not a do-over for our life per se, but it is a chance to take it apart and put it back together in a manner that we can control this time around.
For instance, where we took the left fork in the road, we can have a character go right. He gets off the train at the intriguing station, where we stayed put until the train got to the town on our ticket. She takes the gorgeous, Mediterranean-skinned Christian Israeli up on his invitation whereas I merely shook my head “no” and smiled slightly, with more than a touch of regret.
While writing about completely different characters, we can instill some aspect of ourselves.
We’ve all got stories to tell. It’s what makes us more than one-dimensional, whether we choose to tell them or simply absorb the experience silently, breathing it in through our pores and letting it become part of who we are. A writer needs to make sure that their characters are multidimensional as well.
Somebody in a wonderful Women’s Writer group on Facebook recommended that, in order to add depth to a character, a writer should make a list of ten things about their character that nobody knows and that they won’t necessarily tell their readers. I had never thought of it and think it’s a wonderful idea. If I’m the sum of my experiences, wouldn’t my characters be too?
In turn, just the act of uncovering those ten or so things about my character(s) will help me understand them better and know not only how they’d react in a given situation, but also why. And knowing that “why” will make them more real and their relationships with other characters more real. Writers want readers to identify with their characters on some level or at least be affected by them. To accomplish that, the characters need to actually exist for the reader. (See above re: multidimensional.)
So back to me and my life. Even though I’ll always have a Bucket List, I’ve done some amazing and once-in-a-lifetime things. There’s a lot to pull from, even though my current main character became a recluse after a traumatic experience four decades ago. She still had dreams once, as–I hope–so do we all.
I know that I’ll never stop dreaming. And I hope to never stop traveling, although the responsibilities and demands of raising a family have drastically curtailed that for now. (We did go on a grand family adventure last year to Scotland and England, to familiarize the kids with their MacAulay roots, and it was amazing!)
Writing is the ultimate adventure and imagination will get you far, but exploration of the real world helps fill in the details that make a story seem possible. So get out there and live! Your characters and readers will thank you.
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