To write fictional characters, we must know them, inside and out, before we can feel empathy for them, and before we can understand why and how they will do the things that we will make them do, and say the words that we will make them say.
In other words, we must believe that they are real flesh and blood, with all of the wonders and foibles that go along with that. Only then, can we really write them in any meaningful way. This is nothing new to any writer worth their salt, right? And of these knowing writers, who does he/she choose to analyze the most? The writer’s self: as Confucius say – no matter where you go, there you are.
We are not just students of the human condition. We are our own subject matter. How we operate. How we relate, articulate, disseminate the world, our lives, our wants, our needs. And what of our secret selves? The histories, the pain, the faded and vivid memories, the disappointments, the yearnings, the unchartered dreams, the joys? The stuff that shapes us, the stuff that we never show and tell? Our interior lives – where the most fascinating secrets dwell to influence how we choose to live and the paths we take.
Stories of self can come to life in three-dimensional worlds that make meaning of experience, and hopefully generate empathy and connection with others. Removing the shield of author, and stripping away the mechanisms that hide the fragility of a human being alone, we know what we experienced, and we know how it felt. How we looked out at the world and the people in it, how we continue to do that.
The difference between being a child as opposed to being an adult is that, as the former, we are powerless to our fate, and powerless to change anything. Becoming the latter enables empowerment to not only steer our own course, but more importantly, to change our ways of thinking, reacting and of just being.
The fictional life is no different. And it is the challenge for the writer to pick away at those layers of being until exposing that space between what is seen in the character’s exterior life, and what is hidden in their interior one. The secret place of the human condition that exposes the reasoning behind our every action, and towards those surprises and discoveries that will lead us to chart a compelling arc for our character.
This article first appeared in Writers And Authors
I am a writer and filmmaker from Dublin, Ireland. Author of the award-winning novel, LADY BETH, I have recently written and directed the short film FRAMED (2018). I am also the screenwriter and co-producer of IN RIBBONS (2015) and ADAM (2013)