Your Nearest and Dearest

The baring of self causes many authors to shrink back from developing their protagonist fully. That instinctive need to guard against exposure also extends to our nearest and dearest. An author may have a character that is based on his older brother, and yet he dares not set forth identifying details for fear that his sibling will later read the book and condemn him. This fear is not misplaced. I remember more than one discussion with my older brother when he firmly, like a politician, averred that our parents weren’t so damaging to us. I got the hint.

Does that mean you have to wait until your parents are dead and your siblings are so addled they won’t care? I’d like to suggest a way out for the more true-blood members of the writing tribe. What is initially set out as background about a character does not mean that everything the relative did in the past is then recorded in the character’s arc. The character will be carried along in the novel to a place that your sister, for example, would never go. The events of a novel are too exaggerated for that. 

This is where true character penetration takes place. As you are writing a scene, forget about what your sister would say. Your sister would never be out on the limb where you’ve placed that character. For example, in real life the dissolution of a marriage occurs over a period of straitened years. Yet for your purposes, your “sister” in the novel has an affair because of all of the reasons her marriage is falling apart. Her husband’s finding out then causes a crisis. 

Now, your sister never had an affair. It might even be that, in real life, your brother-in-law is the one who cheated. But that doesn’t matter. Your story revolves around the characters you are featuring. If you realize that the sister character needs to have an affair in order for her story to keep developing, then the actual reasons for the breakup are twisted to your purposes. You’re not writing about your sister anymore. She started as your sister, yes, but she has morphed into a character, one who can control her destiny.

Exercise: Review a character that is based on a family member. Are you really capturing what they are like, or is the character fairly bland and unremarkable? Write down in a separate file the features of a sibling, say, that truly stand out. What are the incidents in his life that are most telling? Put in a few of those as back stories. Keep returning to them as you embellish the character. You’ll see the character become more vivid, even if he never did the stuff you’re relating.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.