There’s a time and a place for everything. Being politically correct as a human being is great. Being politically correct as a writer is overrated. And boring.
I’m currently reading a throwback novel from the 90’s titled Friends and Lovers by Eric Jerome Dickey. This book is chock full of scandalous statements from candidly outspoken characters. I’m constantly raising my eyebrows and shaking my head. But I’m also still reading because I find it absolutely titillating!
One character equated deception by a man she was intimate with to rape. She felt that when a man lies or misrepresents himself to get in a woman’s pants that he is on the same gutter level as a rapist. Is this PC? Um, no. But it does tell me a lot about the character and what she represents. There are other instances in the book that reek of racism, sexism, and bigotry. Still, I can’t help but to remain intrigued because Dickey didn’t seem to write simply for the sake of shock value. I think he did it because he was striving to paint a true picture of the world as he saw it. He succeeded.
Each of the many characters throughout Friends and Lovers reminds me of someone I know or have known. The world is full of less than desirable people. People that are far from PC. If one of our jobs as artists is to portray the world as we see it, then we will have to include characters and phrases that are likely to offend someone, somewhere, at some point. And that’s okay. As long as we do it with grace and purpose.
Dickey’s characters are at times crass, but those same characters also display intense moments of compassion and humanity. It’s all totally believable because that’s how people really are. Hemingway said it best, “When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.”
So every once in a while leave your political correctness at the door and get down to the nitty-gritty business of re-creating people. No one will bite, I promise. And you might just cause a reader to stop and take a closer look at themselves and the world around them. If they don’t like what they see, perhaps they’ll change it.
Want to join me on my journey back to the 90’s? Get your copy of ‘Friends and Lovers’ here or here.
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Let’s talk commitment. When developing a main character it is imperative that you commit to him or her. Discerning readers expect characters with depth. Discerning readers expect multi-dimensional characters. Discerning readers buy books and if you give them what they deserve, they will remain your loyal fans for life.
Resist the urge to dive head first into plot development, descriptive paragraphs and thought provoking dialogue. Get to know your main character (MC). Now, you could go the boring (and sometimes effective) route of making a character outline. Or, you could indulge in the borderline mental illness that all gifted writers possess and start off by flirting with your MC. What does he or she look like? What’s their style like? Where do they hang out? Then step it up a notch. Start dating your MC. Find out where they went to school. What are they passionate about? Where did they grow up? Nuclear family? Single parent home? How old were they when they had their first kiss? First fell in love? What do they do for a living? Where have they traveled? You get the picture.
So you’ve flirted. You’ve dated. And now you’ve decided that this character is worth delving into. So take the plunge and get to the nitty-gritty of a relationship. What are his or her buttons? Deepest fears? Greatest regrets? Most annoying habits? At this point your character should constantly be on your mind. Having a conversation with your MC while driving down the street should be the norm. Adding his or her name to your Christmas shopping list shouldn’t give you pause.
Totally give in to the psychosis that is creative imagination and marry this person. Live and breathe who he or she is. Think about them while you brush your teeth, hustle through your day job, and clip coupons online. If you’re doing it right, your actual spouse should accuse you of cheating. If you’re really doing it right, you should feel a momentary flash of guilt because you kind of feel like you are. At that point, reel that junk in. We want to commit, not get committed.
If you like your character, put a ring on it. The more time and effort you put into character development, the greater the return on your investment.
Writers: What’s your process for creating characters with depth?
Readers: What makes a character stand out as the real deal?
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