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March 13, 2010 - 5:16pm
posted by Joseph Langen in character, life.

Sliding Otter News, Volume 2, Issue 6, Appreciating the Characters in Our Lives

Skating van Goghs

Skating Van Goghs

~Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it: the tree is the real thing~
Abraham Lincoln

I recently asked a couple friends to read my novel in progress. Both thought the story idea was good but the characters were weak. Bob Fussell came to my rescue again and suggested I look up Nancy Kress. I found her book Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint.

Characters populate all the stories we read. The better defined and more interesting the characters are, the better we like the story. Lately I found myself immersed in Nancy’s book about characters as well as reading her stories and watching her characters in action.

Story characters can be drawn whole from the author’s acquaintances, modified from a real person or conjured up without any basis in reality. Some authors stress plot rather than their characters. Others base their stories heavily on their characters’ thoughts feelings and actions. It occurred to me that novels and short stories are not the only place we find characters. Our lives are also full of major and minor characters, sometimes passing briefly through our lives. At other times characters take up residence with us, perhaps for years on end.

In our haste to accumulate more things and to enhance our feeling of security or personal importance, we often do not take time to notice the characters around us. I recall a time in my life when the people I knew seemed more important than what happened around me. At times they still are.

As a child, I visited a series of older people whenever I had the chance. Sometimes it was for milk and cookies. Sometimes I helped them with chores. With one couple, I pored over an ancient copy of Land and Sea with color plates of real and mythical sea beasts. They eventually gave me the book.

All of these people are gone now, but I still remember visiting each of them, even if the stories they told are becoming fuzzy. I still remember the people although I don’t recall just what they said to me or I to them. Some of the people I have known over the years have reappeared in whole or in part in stories I have written. My first childhood love, neighborhood bullies, friends and mentors have surfaced from time to time to again form part of the fabric of my life.

Do you ever think about the characters who have passed through your life, whether recently or long ago, and how they have helped shape your personality. They are part of your context and they have played a part in who you have become.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Who have been the main characters in your life so far?
  • What minor characters had the most impact on you?
  • What good example led you to become a better person?
  • What villains have made you vow to never act like them?
  • What effect do you have on those whose lives you inhabit as a character? 
July 15, 2008 - 8:23am
posted by Joseph Langen in writing, editing, character.

JOE: Good morning Calliope.
CALLIOPE: Good morning Joe. How are you today?
JOE: Fine. I feel rested and energetic.
CALLIOPE: How do you plan to use this energy?
JOE: I have several activities planned involving other people. Still, I have some time for myself. My first priority is to record Are You Afraid of this Book.
CALLIOPE: Please refresh my memory.
JOE: Okay. I think some readers are fearful of The Pastor's Inferno due to its theme and content. Rather than hoping their fears will abate, I thought it might be useful to address them directly.
CALLIOPE: Weren't you working on that over the weekend?
JOE: I was. I completed the outline Sunday but didn't have time to record it yesterday. It seems the summer is busier than I thought it would be.
CALLIOPE: So you plan to do it today?
JOE: Yes. I also learned something interesting yesterday.
CALLIOPE: Which is?
JOE: Larry Shearer wrote a review of Young Man of the Cloth for Amazon. He liked the book but commented that one particular conversation did not sound true to life.
CALLIOPE: So what did you learn?
JOE: That part of the editing process in fiction could be to read passages from the point of view of the narrator or other characters being described. I will be that character for a moment and consider whether the passage describes me accurately. I'll try it today and let you know how it works. See you tomorrow.
(Bailey on the Allegany)

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