Thoughts on Writing: Crafting Character

The office chair seems to have a permanent indention in it as I diligently write more and more pages for my latest novel. With the book deadline heading for the home stretch, my characters continue to take shape with each new chapter.

My assistant, Angela, asked me “Who were some of your favorite book characters?” There are so many, but here are some of my all time favorites:

Peter Pan (The Adventures of Peter Pan) Who doesn’t love that clever, adorable boy who won’t grow up? (and who doesn’t know exactly why Wendy chose another to marry…)

Atticus (To Kill a Mockingbird) The father all of us wished we had, the father men aspire to be. (in fact, my daddy was a lot like Atticus.)

Pilot-Major John Blackthorne (Shogun) A fabulous, well rounded character—plenty of flaws and yet noble. He embodied the misconceptions between East and West that continued for hundreds of years.

Pip (Great Expectations) Such heart!

Penelope (The Shell Seekers) A fully realized character that reveals the culture and sensitivities of the WWII “Greatest Generation” of women and the tremendous post war cultural changes.
Each of these characters was flawed, yet each pursued a journey discovering the depth of their strengths and virtues.

I like to think that crafting characters is like painting. You start with a rough sketch: what they look like, their habits, strengths and flaws. I add a bit of color with tags, speech style, and quirky habits. I add motivations and conflict. As I write the novel, the characters are fleshed out. Like an artist with an oil painting, layers are added for depth and clarity until the portrait is fully realized.

My advice to young writers it not to grow frustrated if a character seems to be lacking in the early process of your writing. Remember, no artist presents a masterpiece with just a pencil sketch. You must add layers of brush strokes and various colors before the painting is complete.

My painting, so to speak, is nearing completion. I hope these latest characters make a lasting impression!

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All the best,
Mary Alice