Wednesday, March 27, 2013

In the Flesh

A couple of nights ago my husband and I watched the movie Ruby Sparks. In the film, the main character, Calvin, is struggling with a massive case of writer's block. After his shrink gives him an impromptu writing assignment, Calvin has a dream about a beautiful red-haired girl and begins writing about her. And then the unbelievable happens--Ruby appears, in the flesh, in Calvin's house. He fell in love with her from the moment he began her story, and his attachment only deepens now that she's real. Of course this creates conflict when he realizes he can control her actions and emotions through his typewriter.

Throughout the film I was enchanted with the idea that Calvin had created a character who was so well written that she could slip into the world and no one would know she was made of ink and paper. He knew every detail of her life, who she was, and what had shaped her. When Calvin is describing Ruby to his shrink, he slips into this beautiful narrative that delves so much deeper than what she looks like or her favorite foods. 

This brought to mind my own characters and how well--or not so well--I know them. If they suddenly appeared and a stranger asked them about their life--their family, what they do, what they love, what defining moments shaped who they are--would my characters be able to answer? Would they be able to reply confidently, in a way consistent with their personality? Would there be enough backstory, enough thought-out, relatable details, for my characters to take on a life of their own and make it in the real world without being found out?

Image courtesy of jannoon028 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
So I started thinking about my next project and my main character, Abbey. What does she look like? How does she wear her hair? These are pretty basic, so I asked myself "why?" Why does she wear her hair like that? I know her favorite books, but why are they her favorites? (This lead to the discovery that she feels Nancy Drew is far inferior to Sherlock Holmes.). I looked at some of the personality traits I'm drawn to the most in Abbey and realized it's because I share them (which helps me write these parts of her with more authenticity). I asked Abbey how she's different from those around her and whether she's okay with that (she is) and if she would be willing to maybe change the way she thinks about some things (she might eventually). And I soon found that one of the biggest perks to getting to know Abbey better is the more I know about her, the more the pieces of my plot's puzzle start to fall into place.

I've been wanting to watch Ruby Sparks for a while, but I'm glad I ended up watching it now (perfect timing since my writing group just happens to currently be discussing character development and interviewing your characters) because it inspired me to seriously delve into this process. Because really, my characters are a part of me and I owe it to them to get to know them well enough to tell their stories properly.

Hemingway said it well: "When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters."

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