Archive | 1:48 pm

Developing Characters in Fiction

16 May

Mister Streitz's home

Let’s spend a little time discussing the creation of characters in fiction.  As is my norm, I think I’ll drive home this lesson with a story from my past.

I really lived in an idyllic setting as a child.  The neighborhood where I grew up was overflowing with kids and good people in general.  The adults would watch out for all of us, like one big extended family.  Neighbors would help neighbors with big chores, without being helped, just stop what they were doing to man a wheelbarrow or help with painting, that sort of thing.  Everyone knew everyone’s name, a little Mayberry RFD in the middle of Tacoma, Washington.

It was all a very cool setting except for one person:  Henry Streitz, the neighbor who lived across the street from us.

The meanest man I’ve ever met.

Mister Streitz came back from the war a changed man, or so I’m told. All I know is he seemed to be put on this earth to terrorize and cuss at kids.  We knew, when we went out to play ball, that Mister Streitz would eventually appear, shouting at us to stay off his lawn, retrieving loose balls and tossing them in his garbage, cussing us out for disturbing his nap, the list of offenses was endless.

For fourteen years that is how I knew Mister Strietz, as a bitter, angry human being.  I literally, and I’m serious when I say this, I literally never heard a nice word from him during those fourteen years.

And then my dad died.

The day after my dad’s funeral I was outside sitting on the lawn, petting my dog, completely lost in my grief, when Mister Streitz walked out his front door and came across the street.  He stopped in front of me, seemed to be at a loss for words.  The moments ticked by and then he reached out his hand, shook mine, and told me he was very sorry for my loss, that my father was a good man and he would be sorely missed by everyone in the neighborhood.  Then he turned around and left me to my grief.

He never said another word to me in the next five years, and then Mister Streitz died.

MY WRITING LESSON

I try to remember Mister Streitz when I create characters for my books.  Human beings are incredibly complex.  There is a story in each of us, a story born from years of hardships and successes.  No one person is shallow and without personality.  No one person is one-dimensional.  And I believe it is our job, as writers, to bring each main character to life and give each of them the complexity they deserve.

This lesson is now over.  Have a great week of writing!

Bill

Helping writers to spread their wings and fly.”

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