Thursday, 15 December 2016

Write About What Hurts and Don't Worry About Upsetting your Mother!

If you want to create a great character, you have to abandon your own inhibitions.
Ideally, the result will be a character the reader can identify with. The human personality is a mix of ambiguities and idiosyncrasies that make characters real and often endearing. 
The best-ever writing advice comes from Ernest Hemingway: "Write loud and clear about what hurts." It's worth developing this important concept when it comes to great characterisation.
Your characters can be composites of several different people.
Most Creative Writing lecturers advise against hijacking a whole, real person as a model for a central character, as it seldom works. If you have a specific motivation for your central protagonist and s/he is based on a real person, this might inhibit you from developing your character in the way you have planned. Whatever method you use to people your fiction, remember that without that all-important sense of recognition, your reader may not become emotionally involved. 
We need at least one character to root for. 
Also, remember, the reader becomes more involved when left to make his/her own judgments, rather than being told what to think.
Body Language
Body language can suggest what a person is thinking or feeling and can be used to show how your character operates. People say one thing, but mean, think or feel something quite different. Observing body language is a more accurate barometer of human intention than speech, as explained in Body Language by Allan Pease, and although most of us subconsciously recognise and react upon these mannerisms in others, we're not always able to define them. Surf the Internet for a book about body language to help you make full use of it in your writing. Besides Body Language, Allan Pease has written other excellent books on closely-related subjects and can be found on Amazon.
Forget About Upsetting Your Mother
Making your characters deal with real-life uncomfortable, embarrassing, painful or confrontational situations presents a different challenge, often demanding a degree of personal bravery. On a Diploma Course in Creative Writing held in my home county, students were told: "Write for yourself, without restraint. Forget about upsetting your mother." (Actually, I think most mothers cope reasonably well, contrary to what their children believe.)
You cannot write to the best of your ability and the depth of your understanding if you are constantly worried about who you are upsetting with your emotional honesty. It's restricting to feel you cannot adopt a confrontational voice. Emotional honesty helps promote human understanding. If we never acknowledge dark forces at work in our psyche, our sense of awareness becomes diminished; we are less rounded as people, as writers. Issues can be highlighted and opened up for discussion, helping us to know we are not alone in our anxieties.
Examine all motives from an informed viewpoint, avoiding what is contrived or self-conscious. Whatever your personal writing goal, it will always work better if it strikes the reader as sincere, real, written straight from the heart and devoid of restraint or false sentiment.
Sources:

  • Wolff, J. Your Writing Coach, (2009) Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  • Multiple Contributors, The Creative Writing Handbook, Edited by Julia Bell and Paul Magrs. (2001) MacMillan.
  • Pease, A. Body Language, (1988) Sheldon Press.
  • Hemingway, E. Quotation on Postcard, published by www.bbc.co.uk/writersroom

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