Writers Tell Their Secrets

Most everyone at least considers writing at some point in their lives. For those of us not as gifted as the Hemingways, Fitzgeralds and Faulkners of this world, sometimes some writing techniques can come in handy. Here is a suggestion from Silas House, author of five novels as well as plays and works of nonfiction:

“To Kill a Mockingbird would certainly have had little effect without the presence of memorable folks like Scout, Jem, Dill, Atticus and Calpurnia. The Outsiders wouldn’t have meant much to me without Ponyboy, Johnny, Cherry Valance and all the others. The Color Purple only took up housekeeping in my heart because of characters like Celie, Shug and Sofia.

Characters are what make us love fiction, what make the stories stick with us and speak to us. Yes, plot and sense of place and action and the language are hugely important. But a novel would be a boring affair indeed without those who populate it.

The point is that I didn’t come to care about Scout or Ponyboy or Celie because of how they looked. I cared about them because I knew what was going on in their minds and hearts. Readers are better informed if we give them what is in a character’s brain, not what is on her body. ”

Read more about writing techniques in Silas House’s article in the New York Times.

1 comment

  • Lewis McIntyre March 13, 2017

    I would like to share my thoughts along the line of characterization

    My characters reveal themselves to me slowly. I don’t plan them but allow them to talk to me, to tell their story as the larger story unfolds. I also often imagine, while driving, having a conversation with them, or perhaps just envisioning their next scene, wondering why they do what they do. I don’t have a master file that I develop in advance, though I do have a file of key items, such as birthday and place of birth, developed after the fact as these are revealed to me, so I can keep them consistent. I know this sounds passive, as though I am channeling my characters, but in fact I guess it is allowing my subconscious to form these characters, rather than a conscious, this -is-how-I-am-going-to-make-this-person-be, approach. As a result, they often surprise me, and my readers have them to be extremely deep.

    One my characters is Marcia Lucia, who warms my heart each time I think of her. Physically, she is a small, rather typical Chinese girl, perhaps 5 ft 2, 110 lbs… except for her piecing blue eyes. As she puts it “My father gave them their color, my mother gave them their shape.” She got them from her ancestor and namesake, Marcus Lucius, who several generations back, wound up in Liqian with his comrades from Carrhae as mercenary border guards. Through those generations, they kept their language but became bilingual in Chinese, so she and her brother were a natural choice for translators on a mission to Rome. She enters the story as a submissive concubine to a mid-level Chinese official, who infuriates her brother Marcus by his treatment of her. But her submissiveness is a form of strength: she is enduring what cannot, for now, be changed, but when the opportunity for a new life presents itself, she does not lack in courage to seize the opportunity. And when that chance appears taken away, returning her to her submission, she too, has the courage and inner pride to return to that life… until the next opportunity. And when second opportunity comes, she will let nothing take her back to that kind of life again. Her Chinese name is Si Huar, “Western Flower.”

    Antonius Aristides, the centurion, is an up from the ranks soldier’s soldier, not given to socializing. He appears to be as rough cut as a piece of granite, till we learn that he is quite well-educated, the son of a freedman Greek tutor, the first born citizen in his family, whose grandfather was a slave. As primus pilus, the first lance senior centurion, he will be mustered out into the equestrian class, as is the norm for that rank, and he dreams of someday starting a philosophical academy of some sort in his home town of Aquilegia. But for now, he keeps his coarse tongue and gruff demeanor wrapped around like a red Army sagum cloak. He is not comfortable around women, his mother having died when he was a child and having no sisters… his only connection with women has been with the prostitutes and sluts that surround every Roman army camp. So he is a bit flustered and indeed uncomfortable to find himself in conversation with Marcia, whom he regards as a woman of high rank (though nothing could be further from the truth!). And their relationship evolves…

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