A perspective on characters

claude_monet_PortraitThe writing project I’m in the middle of right now has caused me to examine characters and their perspectives in a deep, inquisitive and sometimes confounded way.

(I can’t tell you what the project is exactly, because I’m ghostwriting and that’s just the way it is when you ghostwrite)

When you watch a movie, unless someone is narrating during the scenes, than you need to base what the character is thinking by their actions.

But when you read a book, the author has the ability to paint inter-weaving stories and perspectives for you. In one scene you can see the world from the perspective of the main character, while in the next scene you’re seeing everything from their arch-nemesis’s perspective. And who knows, maybe the following scene will be from the perspective of the detective’s hairbrush lying on the bathroom counter. Or an omnipotent perspective that sees and knows all.

Having options is great, but they can sometimes be overwhelming as well.

Learning more about who my characters are, without judgement or a need to change them, is a good place to start.

So I opened up Anne Lamott’s book on writing called ‘Bird by Bird’, and found a section where she talks about characters. The story she shares at the end of the section made me laugh out loud, as well as left me feeling better informed and inspired.

Here’s the lead up to the story:

“You are going to love some of your characters, because they are you or some facet of you, and you are going to hate some of your characters for the same reason.

But no matter what, you are probably going to have to let bad things happen to some of the characters you love or you won’t have much of a story.

Bad things happen to good characters, because our actions have consequences, and we do not all behave perfectly all the time. As soon as you start protecting your characters, from the ramifications of their less-than-lofty behavior, your story will start to feel flat and pointless, just like in real life.

Get to know your characters as well as you can, let there be something at stake, and then let the chips fall where they may.”

Here’s the story:

“My Al-Anon friend told me about the frazzled, defeated wife of an alcoholic man who kept passing out on the front lawn in the middle of the night. The wife kept dragging him in before dawn so that the neighbors wouldn’t see him, until finally an old black woman from the South came up to her one day after a meeting and said, “Honey? Leave him lay where Jesus flang him.”

And I am slowly, slowly in my work–and even more slowly in real life–learning to do this.”

–Anne Lamott (author of Bird by Bird and Traveling Mercies)

I’d love to hear your perspective on characters and your experience with bringing them to life–gam-of-thrones-finale

(or killing them off, if you’re more of a George R.R. Martin kind of author) 🙂

–Just fill out a comment below…

2 thoughts on “A perspective on characters

  1. I explore characters through paintings. If this website allowed images in the comments, I would show some examples. There are the lovers, the writers, the weird cat lovers, the market shoppers, the fishermen from India, the brahmins from India, Death personified, cowherd boys, gopis, etc… all of those painted with a lot of feelings…. Check out my website if you are curious about this.

    1. Yes, paintings are a way that you tell the story of a character with a single scene, which is amazing!

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this