Let your Characters Reveal Themselves to you

By Fielies de Kock

I am always amazed by how my characters can surprise me. Just this morning I wrote a flash fiction story. Yesterday the ending of the story popped into my head. I decided to write it on my phone last night whilst in bed, but I was too lazy to figure out the plot details. This morning I decided to sit down and labour over it a bit. I knew the ending was words uttered by a soldier in a war, but I had no idea about how I was going to get there.  But when I started writing, Uwe, the protagonist turned out to be a dentist in the German Army during WW2 who was experiencing a crossroads moment. I didn’t make Uwe up. He created himself before my mind’s eyes. All I had to do was to start writing a few words. The moment Uwe was ‘born’, he developed a life and a voice of his own.

The same happened years back when I started writing a novel (which is still only two thirds into the creating phase of the writing process). I wrote a chapter in which the two main characters – a couple – invited a new friend over for dinner. This friend plays the other main character in the story and they were chatting away soon enough. At that stage, all I knew about my couple was that they previously had a relationship, were reunited and were engaged now. During the dinner conversation I learned that they both went from South Africa at different times to work on kibbutzim in Israel. They eventually ended up at the same kibbutz, fell in love, got pregnant, lost their baby girl in a bus bomb during an intifada and then the woman went home. They only met again years later after she got divorced and finally had counselling – and were now sitting, engaged to be married, at a dinner table, telling their new friend – and most importantly, me – their whole story. I was flabbergasted by my characters’ secrets. I really didn’t know all those things about them until that night.

Listen to your Characters

So the moral of the two stories is to learn to sit back and let your characters do the talking – literally! We live in a world of helicopter parenting, controlling our every move to the finest detail and fomo, and writers sometimes tend to overkill on character development to a point of stereotyping. Like the police detective whose boss hates him, is divorced/getting divorced, has a drug/drinking problem, is an absent father and has a heart which is just waiting to attack him. Where are the out-of-the-ordinary detectives who are kind-hearted, crochet with their grandmothers, are romantic husbands etc? Are they really too boring to write stories about or are we are just too lazy to work out great story lines for them? (And there’s another challenging story idea right there! Don’t steal it – it’s mine!)

We should sometimes really sit back and just listen to our characters telling us who they really are. Maybe they have more to offer than the one dimensional stereotype we so often mould them into.

How do you Listen to your Characters?

Go about your character developing the way you normally do. Give them their eye and hair colour, pet peeves, characteristics, likes, weaknesses, family ties, problems etcetera, as much as you like, but don’t limit their back stories because of your own preconceptions. Put them in different circumstances and see how they react. Listen to how they talk to other characters and to what they tell them. You might be stunned at what they might reveal. The best way to do this is to sit down and whether you write to a strict outline or if you are off-the-cuffing it, free write your scenes. Follow these guidelines.

  • Don’t think too much or wait until you have everything figured out before you start writing. If your character do or say things that you didn’t plan, let him/her without interrupting or censoring them.
  • Explore the character by keep writing. Don’t hesitate if weird things flow from your pen or keys and don’t stop writing for even a second! And never, ever stop to correct anything until the free writing is over! Allow freewriting sessions of at least ten minutes per character.
  • Write whatever comes to mind – even if it scares you a bit or if you didn’t plan things the way it plays out. You can always adapt the story line later or edit some of what you have written. It is better to have and to do away with than not to have at all!
  • Trust your instincts (or those of your characters), because when you free write, your instincts take over and most of the time we write better this way than when we are forced to write according to a plan.
  • Just keep going until you reach a point where it feels as if it is done – even if it takes longer than the time allotted for the session.
  • Don’t edit immediately after writing. Leave your work until the next day or even a few days later. This will give you time to think about the revelations you characters made and how it will influence the plot and your story line and if everything still fits in the greater plan. Most of the time you will be pleasantly surprised. If you really find after rereading your work that it is not the case or that it really is a bunch of Charlie Romeo Alpha Papa, you can always delete what you don’t like and/or edit it until you are happy.

Learn to start trusting your characters to reveal themselves to you. You might discover a whole new approach to character development for future use.

© 2019 Fielies De Kock

Awesomest wife. Finest mom. Hopefullest writer. Foreverest dreamer. Living in a coastal village in the Overberg, South Africa, with her husband and two dogs in a small heritage house, and their job-seeking son in the garden cottage.

Rapid Writing – Tips, Lessons & Exercises from The Writing Club Facebook Page

Lesson 1

 

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c   2014 Riette De Kock

  • This is a new initiative from The Writing Club © (https://www.facebook.com/thewritingclubdieskryfklub?ref=ts&fref=ts). It  will brings you regular ‘writing rapids’ in the form of very short lessons, tips and creative writing exercises.
  • Writing Rapids© will help you practice your writing skills on-the-go. All you need is your smart phone and 10 minutes at a time.
  • Don’t worry if you miss an exercise – just keep going. You can always scroll back to previous tips, lessons and exercises or catch them here on www.fieliesdekock.wordpress.com .
  • Feel free to post your exercises on the The Writing Club © Facebook page.
  • (Unfortunately no editing or advice on your writing can be offered from me right now.)
  • Please comment on the lessons, tips and creative writing exercises and post some of your own if you want.

 

Let’s get The Writing Club © Facebook page buzzing!

Article on Writing: Thinking about Life

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*  This blog entry is introductory to next one about journal writing. Read it at https://fieliesdekock.com/2014/03/17/article-on-writing-journal-writing/

To be a good writer, one must have a ‘writer’s voice’. To have a ‘writer’s voice’ it is important to have opinions about lots of things in life. To have opinions one must spend a great deal of time thinking about various subjects and issues.

We are Spirit within a Body

A human being is not only a piece of meat filled with bones and blood and water. Man consists of body, mind and spirit and soul. We are complicated beings. We must understand that we don’t just have a body to look after, but also a spirit/soul/mind. Not only needs our body to be fed with food, but our spirits also need food. Most people are religious and believe in some or other god. I for instance, believe in the Living God of the Bible. So for me to become a whole human being, I need more that only food for my body. I need to learn of and communicate with God in order to feed my soul/ spirit. We are spiritual beings in fleshly bodies.

Making Sense out of Life

Sometimes things happen that don’t make any sense to us and true to our human nature, we want to make sense of it. Sometimes we talk to a trusted friend about it and sometimes we keep it to ourselves. It happens to every person at some stage. It is good to talk to someone about our problems and worries and concerns. But sometimes there isn’t anyone to talk to. Or we don’t want to talk to anyone about certain things. What to do then?

Dreams and Goals

Apart from experiencing things and having fears and problems, we all have dreams and goals in life too. Those dreams and goals will not just happen without us doing something to make it happen. Therefore it is good to think about the things we want from life and write it down – because when we write things down, they start to become real in our minds.

If you don’t think about life and what it is that you want to do, then you will probably end up doing whatever comes along and not what you are supposed to do with your life.

We all have different dreams, talents and passions. Unfortunately, there are many people today who don’t know what their life’s dream is, because they never take the time to think about life and to learn to know themselves. Don’t let that happen to you.

It is therefore important that we learn to know ourselves – our dreams, talents, passions, short falls and behavioural patterns. Just as a sportsman have to practice every day to become fit and to master every bit of skill there is to master in his sport, so we have to ‘practice’ every day to become the best we can be.

Only you can be you, so be the best you you can be.

(Yes, I know it sounds cheesy and I don’t know if someone else had said it before.)

How do we go about Becoming the Best we can be?

By thinking – thinking about ourselves, our behaviour, the way we handle things and the way we don’t. By thinking about things that are important to us, things we don’t like or things that we do like. By thinking about what we want to do for others and for ourselves. And by thinking about our points of view on different issues we hear about on the news, such as global warming, abortion, human rights, world politics etc.

Make Time to Think

These days we seem to be too busy to think. We have school or work, sports, chess practice, piano or violin lessons, extra maths classes and then we still have to watch TV and DVDs, listen to music, go to the movies, keep up with our Facebook and Twitter friends and do homework. It’s exhausting!

We don’t have time to become quiet and listen to ourselves. That way we get used to other people thinking for us and making decisions on our behalves. Teenagers wear what Hannah Montana wears and listen to Justin Bieber because they are told to listen to him.

Children make their parents buy them toys they can’t afford, because the TV ads say that everyone must have them. But do all girls really like to look like Hannah or like to listen to Justin or do children really need those expensive toys?

Most children today don’t know the answer to these questions. They just do as they are told because they don’t know what they really like, because they don’t think for themselves.

The same applies to adults.

Introduce Yourself to Yourself

I want you to make a stand and change all that today. I want to encourage you to start thinking for yourselves.

Make time every day to spend thinking. It can be early in the morning (if you are an early bird) or in evening before going to bed. Or somewhere in between. Go to your room and switch off everything so that you can hear the quietness. (And leave your cell phone in another room.) Or go outside and sit or lie on the grass or sit on the porch. (And leave your cell phone inside.) Just be quiet and allow your thoughts to flow naturally. Eventually you will start thinking about the things that are important to you. Keep a notebook or your journal close and write done things that you don’t want to forget.

A Few Exercises to get you Started

  • Make a list of the people you love most.
  • Make a list of the people you don’t like hanging out with.
  • Make a list of the things you like doing most.
  • Make a list of the things you really don’t like doing.
  • Make a list of your favourite subjects at school/favourite tasks at work.
  • Make a list of your least favourite school subjects/least favourite tasks at work.
  • Make a list of five things you want to do in life (like climbing Mount Everest or run the Comrades Marathon, writing a book etc.)
  • Make a list of ten places in the world you want to visit.
  • Make a list of your five best character traits.
  • Make a list of your five less attractive character traits.
  • Make a list of five things you think you should become better at.
  • Write down five nice things about every person in your immediate family. (Yes, everyone.)
  • Write down five jobs you think you should like to do/ had done.
  • Write down five things you like about your best friend.
  • Write down five things that you would want your friends and family to say about you.

Creative Writing Exercise

By doing a few of these exercises you will be ready for the following blog entry on journal writing. Read it at https://fieliesdekock.com/2014/03/17/article-on-writing-journal-writing/

  • Take a 20-minute thinking session on your bed or outside in the garden. Take a notebook with you.
  • Do at least two exercises on the list above in your writing club journal.

For more writing related articles, follow The Writing Club / Die Skryfklub on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/thewritingclubdieskryfklub/?ref=bookmarks

 

©2007 Riëtte de Kock