Breathe life into your characters by getting in touch with their spirits. Spirit is the essence of being (breath), and character embraces the distinguishing features, disposition, and qualities of a person. Although, places and objects have character, they don’t have spirit.
The character of each individual in your story must be revealed as a living, breathing human being of real interest in order for her come alive in the minds of readers.
When you’re writing memoir it’s especially important to depict your characters in truthful ways, if not, you have fiction, not memoir. So let’s take a look at characterization as the method writers use to reveal, show, and describe the actions and personalities of the individuals within their stories.
TellTale Souls dig deep for truths about their mothers’ character from life as it’s happening today and/or by remembering specific scenes from the past when writing the Mother Memoir. Often times when authors are writing fiction they borrow character traits pulled from people they know or have closely observed to enliven their fictional characters—many a fictional mother is endowed with the characteristics of the author’s mother. Making use of what they know gives them an added edge.
I always encourage writers to first write a true story about their mothers before writing anything, including fiction. The experience adds an invaluable dimension to the craft of writing. But you won’t know that until you try it…
Before you begin to write a story you’ll work at discovering each character’s individuality and find qualities fundamental to his unique character. Assign those traits immediately to your characters, since doing so will help you later define them to better mold your story when the time comes to write it.
You’re going to show life in action, including all its interesting quirks. How do you make that happen on the written page? Writing is an art, which, for most everyone, takes practice. It is a creative endeavor that requires honing the skill of crafting a story.
- Practice writing to strengthen your craft. Write, edit, rewrite, edit…
- Read the works authors you admire to see how they achieve making their characters memorable.
- Release your spirit to the pen to make your characters come alive.
“When the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” ~Leonardo da Vinci
In addition to looking directly at your character in your mind’s eye, try the following ideas when you’re collecting the core points making up your character’s unique personality. When you’re characterizing “the cut of her jib”—her spirit and personality—
- Read letters he wrote and letters written to him.
- Listen to stories other tell about her (with a grain of salt).
- Remember to include certain sayings you remember she often repeated.
(I first heard the remark, “the cut of her jib,” from my mother, when she described someone’s personality. I thought it was, shall I say, a glamorous way, of relating to someone’s character. I imagined it was something Katharine Hepburn would say. Although I saw Katharine Hepburn’s independent streak and headstrong qualities in Mom, she wasn’t, and didn’t aspire to be, an actress by any stretch of the imagination. I haven’t used this memory in a story about Mom, because I hadn’t thought of it until I began writing this article. Now that it’s been brought to the surface of my consciousness, I’ll keep it at the ready. I almost deleted this little aside about Mom, but stopped myself from obliterating it when I realized it’s an example of how writing in general, writing about anything at all, makes for a good exercise and brings forgotten memories to mind.)
- Write about her strengths, her weaknesses, her humor, her sadness.
- Consider which qualities of character made him different from everyone else in your eyes.
- What color would you assign to her overall being—her spirit and character?
- What smell do you associate with him?
- What made him angry, what made him jubilant?
- What secrets can be found in her closet?
- Ask yourself if he trustworthy? Was he fair-minded? Was he abusive or caring? Was he adventurous? Was he charming? Was he a bore? If so, how so?
- Consider whether she achieve what she set out to achieve in life or was she disappointed with the way things turned out for her?
- Take note if he cheated on his wife or his business partners or was his character filled with integrity?
- Take into account whether her spirit had a shadowy quality over it due to psychic injury or was it a beacon of light?
The list could go on and on and on. Now that you’re mining the gems of your character’s personality and spirits, start writing from your heart. Tomorrow, if you don’t like the way in which you characterized someone, rewrite until your pages are filled with truth and life.