Monday, August 25, 2008

Writing Lessons: Creating Character, Part 1

Love all your characters.

There is no “story” if readers don’t care about your characters. Before a reader will care, you need to feel passionately loyal to each and every one of your characters. Even a character who abuses and hurts others needs to be loved enough to be understood.

In Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Cholly Breedlove is the perfect example of a despicable character who is rendered compassionately. Drunk, alienated, overwhelmed by his own self-loathing, Cholly rapes his daughter. Confusing the image of his daughter’s foot with a happier memory of loving his wife, the horrible, incestuous touch occurs. But his motive was to touch her tenderly.

Even as readers hate Cholly, hate the brutality of his actions, they also feel sympathy because Morrison, in prior scenes, has shown Cholly, as a child, abandoned by his mother and later rejected by his father; shown Cholly being forced to perform sexually under the flashlight glare of racists who damage his innocent first love; shown how money worries, falsely romantic movies, and a punitive religion drove a wedge between the love he and his wife once shared. Cholly, a “burnt-out, black man,” can’t “breed love” because society, over a lifetime, has poisoned his life’s soil. He has no nurturing, sustaining love left to give. When Cholly rapes, we won’t, don’t excuse his actions, but we do mourn for him as well as for his daughter. Because Morrison cared enough about Cholly to understand him fully, she reveals him with powerful empathy.

Human behavior is complex; it is the writer’s journey to explore the human heart and in doing so, you have the pleasure of discovering more about your own heart and revealing your insights through characters. It is this fundamental sharing between writer and reader—of thought, feeling, and action that gives fiction its power and force.

Zora Neale Hurston’s Janie, in talking of her dying love for her husband, Jody, says “she wasn’t petal-open anymore with him.” Characters may love, hate, be spiteful with abandon, but a good writer always remains “petal-open.” If you no longer “love” your characters or feel compelled to write about them, then stop. Without love, you are almost certain to write flat, one-dimensional characters.

My Best Advice: Approach your characters as human beings. Make then complex, vulnerable, and imperfect---whether your characters do good or ill or both, readers will recognize them for who they are--reflections of our humanity.

Isn't that why we read--in part, to discover ourselves in fictional mirrors?

1 comment:

yinan said...

it is great to know that a writer needs to love rather other just depict a character to audieces.