Good morning! It’s Thursday Quick-Write day, and we have guest author Tracy Holczer with us this morning. Tracy is the author of THE SECRET HUM OF A DAISY and joins us today to talk about creating characters readers will remember.
Digging Deep: Creating Memorable Characters
“Go deep, not wide.”
I don’t know who to attribute this quote to, but I think about it often in life and in my writing. Because no matter how well a story is plotted, for me, it won’t come to life unless the characters ring true and deep. Although everyone has a different personal story, and each book is different in terms of circumstances and plot, the deepest shades of the human condition tend to be the same. Wanting to be loved, feeling disconnected or lonely, yearning for acceptance to name a few that are universal. These are themes covered over and over again in stories because they strike the heart directly. And if we can strike the heart, we connect to our reader, and that is the whole point.
So how do we show this emotion on the page? The only way I’ve found (and believe me, I have tried to work around this more than I should) is by digging deeply into ourselves.
As a child growing up, I felt outcast. Like I didn’t belong. Whether this was actually true or not is irrelevant. It felt true. And as we all know, feelings and reality don’t always go hand in hand. And although adults and children alike have these types of overwhelming feelings, adults can more often talk themselves through it. We have the tools we need to deal with life on life’s terms. And if we don’t, we can pay someone for their expertise or read trucks full of books on the subject or beat phone books with a hose (very therapeutic) or take a yoga class or drink wine, or, or, or.
But children? They are at the mercy of the adults in their lives. How much they learn about their own emotional landscape is up to adults. Here is where fiction can help. As a novelist, I try to explore every layer of emotion that characters may be feeling, and the only way I can do that is by tapping into my own.
This is when I think of the Big Feelings in my life. Like when I was seven-years-old and my mom sat me down at the foot of her bed and told me she and my father were divorcing, how it literally felt like my entire world was falling apart. Everything I believed to be true about family, suddenly wasn’t. Or my first crush in the seventh grade, how I chased him and caught him to be my date to the Sadie Hawkins dance, which filled me with an exhilaration unmatched to this day. How when we were “married” by the minister in front of the haystacks at the dance, and he turned to me to “kiss the bride,” and I leaned so far backwards that I fell into said haystacks. As exhilarated as I felt, I wasn’t ready for that first kiss.
There are so many of these memories to explore and mine for their emotional truth. So much in our own lives that carry the universal. This is the way we connect to each other. Through shared experience and hope. And for me, digging deep into my own emotional truth is the only way to tell a story.
Today’s Assignment: A great writing exercise is to fictionalize an actual event in your own life. Take a Big Feeling and tell a story around it. Texturize it. Give it sounds and smells. Sit with the memory and look around. Who was there? What did they add or take away from you? Who were you before that moment and how did it change you? Explore, explore, explore. And bring it to life. Not only will your readers love you for it, but you will love yourself, heal yourself maybe, just a little bit more.