More Lessons From the Trenches

No excellent soul is exempt from a mixture of madness.” Aristotle

I should have called these last few blogs lessons from the trenches. Not sure where these writing tips have come from. I’m doing more writing and reviewing. I’m perhaps a bit more aware of what I’m doing and not doing. Hopefully these realizations help me with my new project. And if you’re a writer reading this blog, I hope it helps you too. But in the end, you’re the writer and you will find your way with or without any advice.

As you create characters, think about their backgrounds, their experiences, and what shaped them. Listen to their voice, how they express themselves, what they think about when they are alone, or in a crowd, or with their mother, partner, friend. What are their weaknesses and strengths? What do they need and what are they afraid of or hiding? Answering these questions brings a character to life. It helps you identify their madness. We all have a little.

Sure humans—real and imagined—are a twist of contradictions. As I write this, I think about some of the guys I used to work with in my prison days. I so rarely write about that time. Too real I suppose. Perhaps I think the reality of it is too difficult to capture in fiction. I don’t know.

I remember someone who was continually in fights with the other inmates, and yet at the same time, liked to spend time in my office reading poetry or being quiet. He was more than his violence. Still if that same guy was a character in a novel and walked into a friend’s party or a bar he would not notice the colour or model of the furniture or the designer dress the woman across the room was wearing.

Here’s what this character might think. How do I score that? He is not going to think, Look at her. Wow, that red Chanel gown she’s wearing really hugs her hips. He’s not going to notice the furniture in the room either, unless of course he was a designer before he went to prison. I suppose that’s possible.

But the character I’m imagining if he saw the furniture at all, might think, wouldn’t mind getting her over that couch. He will see the man she’s talking to and he might say to himself, what’s so special about that guy. But he’s unlikely to pay much attention to what his rival is wearing or assess his looks against his own.

As writers we do describe a scene through the eyes of our characters. It’s a great technique. But when you use it, make sure you are using words and thoughts that are consistent with your character.  This consistency is how a reader comes to understand your characters and eventually empathize with them.

And once you’re in character, stay there. Think consistent voice, mannerisms, and actions. Sure your character will surprise you. Just as in real life a selfish man might at some point do the most selfless act. But he would do it in his own way, within the parameters of who he is. Or if he has completely changed, then we as readers have to see how that transformation has come about.

Not sure I’m making much sense. But there you have it. Hope it helps.

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