I have to admit I find it difficult to write characters. No create them, but to actually make them come alive on the page.
To develop a truly realistic character, you need to be able to give a sense of his or her emotional state, and this is where the wheels tend to fall off for me.
For most of my life, you see, I have focused on facts, not feelings. I might even go so far as to say I have completely shut feelings out of my life—or at least as completely as possible without (yet) ending up in prison as a socio- or psychopath. Thus, I have been ill-equipped to deal with the myriad emotions that form the human condition.
If I look or think back to the writing of my youth, I seemed to be able to manage moral outrage and on occasion, actual rage, but any other emotions, no matter to what extreme, came across as flat. And forget any of the subtle shades in between. I did not do subtlety.
About the only character I could develop was the noble stoic who was a tad self-involved. Hmmm. Seems familiar somehow.
Lacking experience with these various emotions, how could I hope to bring them to my characters?
I’ve never believed emotions were something you could study in the traditional sense.
If I want to understand a polar landscape, I can go online or check a variety of books. Determine the behaviour of a jet that loses one engine? I’m sure there’s a Wiki for that. But emotions, by their very nature, preclude such an academic approach.
Ah, but what about other books and movies?
Good in theory, but without a personal foundation, you run the risk of simply reproducing Glenn Close’s interactions with the rabbit or Peter Lorre’s fear of Moroccan Nazis.
No, to be able to realistically reproduce emotions in my characters, I needed to have experienced them to some extent in my life. Call it Method Writing, if you wish.
Luckily, for a variety of reasons having nothing to do with screenwriting, I have been accessing my emotional centre over the last couple of years. Through a challenging process of self-examination and “coaching”, I have started to feel—allowed myself to feel—emotions like sadness, irritation, pleasure, enthusiasm, boredom and the like. And the impact in my writing has been immediate, if continuing to develop.
When my character is angry, I find myself getting angry. When my character feels loss, I can remember when. Ecstasy? I’m all over it (the emotion, not the chemical).
And I’m not the only one who notices this. As friends, colleagues and classmates read my material, I sense they too experience the emotional rainbow. And sometimes they introduce feelings I never envisioned for a scene.
This isn’t a threat to what I wrote. It is a bonus prize I receive for paying attention and sharing, for they have found something in my words that I did not see or did not know I was channeling.
Maybe it’s gold. Maybe it’s lead. But always, it is valuable.
Like my characters, I am still a work in progress, but at least I feel like I’m progressing.
(Image is property of its owner and is used here without permission. I don’t know how I feel about that.)