Musings on the Art of Writing

As a child, I discovered fantastic worlds created in books. When I began writing about the worlds of my own imagination, I realized how hard authors work to set their characters free to live for our enjoyment. This blog will explore that weird and wonderful process.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


The most difficult part of writing, for me, is avoiding labels when trying to describe characters. I want my readers to know these people as well as I do without using a label that might not properly tell who they are. None of us are 'black and white' and neither should the characters who walk the pages of our books.

My father was a great one for labels. He'd describe someone as materialistic, or an artsy. Once he had decided on a label, it became written in stone. Of course, he was an idealistic scientist and would never stoop so low as to be materialistic but he always found an excuse to buy the latest technology and he had a musical talent even if he didn't nurture it.

Labelling is an easy trap to fall into as a writer. The white hatted 'good' cowboy or the 'evil' witch. Sometimes we rely on these stereotypes to populate our stories just as Hollywood uses extras to make their films come alive. For our main characters, though, we must flesh out these labels so perhaps the good cowboy really enjoys branding cattle and the evil witch loves puppies. Like my father, they are not one trait or the other; they are human with nuances of both.

How do you create characters who seem real? There is no easy answer as every writer seems to approach it in a different way. I begin with visualizing how my character appears, how old they are, what their goals are. Then I begin to fill in their background. Where were they born? How did they spend their early years? However, the best way for me to see these people is to have them talk. Once I 'hear' their speech patterns and have them tell me their stories, then I begin to feel I know them.

The first draft of my books looks more like a script than a novel. My story plays out with people talking to each other. I sketch in the setting and plot but dialogue comes first. It is good to know how a story might progress but don't be surprised if your characters have other ideas on what should happen and tell you with their dialogue. That's the fun part of writing. Letting the people in your books take you where you have to go and dispelling the labels you have given them.

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