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Dreaming a ficional continuum

Schreibtischtäter > Literary writing > Text Layout

Where do you find your charactes? As a frist-time writer you would do best, as always, to start with yourself by fictionalizing your own character or creating a character from an aspect of your own personality, and you will now be used to the habit of keeping such observational notes in your notebook. Your characters can also be assembled from various elements of observed people. For example, during fieldwork, when you spy somebody who interests you, make observational notes and try to interpret their appearance and possessions as aspects of character, but also ask yourself what the person`s story is. How did they get to this moment in their lives, and where are they heading next? In other words, try to `read` them.

I would warn you not to use people to whom you are professionally close. Go wary of caricaturing somebody real. Do not `copy` complete people but create composites from several, not out of moral discretion people but create composites from serial, not out of moral discretion, but out of artistic cunning. Absolute reality writes fiction or invented: but out of artistic cunning. Absolute reality writes fiction badly. The Oxford English Dictionary defines fiction as `that which is unnerves to the actual: the relative closeness to reality enthralls us. Save actual for writing creative nonfiction. Finally, characters can simply be invented, but you will also find with practice that characters arrive in your inmagination as you work on a piece.

Character history

We have discussed the importance of rewriting in Five. However, more than another genre, prewriting is essential to create believable fictional characters. Prewriting allows you to get inside them. Before you even know the storyline, you should create grids of information about not only who your characters are, but also what they do, and what they value and feel. These issues will say a great deal about them to the reader; and to you, the writer, for they will push your story in unexpected ways, and your character is destiny in fiction. As the epigraph of this chapter from Eudora Welty reminds us, `You can`t start with how people look and speak and behave and come to know how they feel. You must know exactly what`s in their hearts and minds before they ever set visible foot on the stage.` Your characters will only surprise you if you know them inside out.

How do you do that? Create a character history for everyone them in your notebook – a dossier. Take each character and write about their type, gender, age name, their relation to other characters, appearance, mannerisms, speech patterns, personality, background, private and professional life, strengths and weaknesses. What are their passions, professions, obsessions? Where do they live? Who do they live with? What family did they come from? Are they happy? Why not? What is their nickname, pet name, or street name, and what are the reasons and meanings behind them? The character history should also include the details of life: physical appearance, clothes, speech, likes, dislikes body language and personal habits. Adapt your style of writing to the subject matter of this information; that is, your characters lead the way. No amount of information is going to jolt your Frankenstein monster into sudden life on the page. It is important, however, for you to know this information. Most of it will never appear on the page at all; is the invisible part of the iceberg to a work we discussed in Chapter One.

Main and viewpoint character

Your main character is the person who your story is about, and your narrative follows them around from place to place. They might be likable or awful; yet we generally sympathies with them because they are likely to be the person most hurt in your story despite their power to act, and the writer creates situation that hurt them in order to make the reader care for them. The viewpoint hear the story through them, and there may be more than to move the story along and tell the truth of it. However, you may invent what is called a unreliable narrator, usually a character who we monitor and soon learn to distrust, however much fun they are.


Information and history allow you to know your characters better; they provide you with elements of their back-story; and let you know their motivations and needs. You will then have some realistic notion of how they will react to conflict and situations, and whether their motivations drive the story or, better still, problems of believability in characterization, as in `I do not believe X would do/ say this.` Character history does not provide with an alibi, but it will prevent you creating bogus moments of behavior and speech, or help you correct aberrations in the draft.

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