Like everyone else on this planet, I’m not perfect. One of my biggest flaws is that I tend to get so absorbed in my own life that I sometimes forget about those around me. Especially when I’m in a writer’s groove, hours, or even days, can go by without me thinking much about the other people in my life.
That said, writing has taught me a great deal about nurturing friendships and developing new ones. After all, characters are just like real people in many ways. We all know that you have to invest in a personal relationship in order for it to grow. The art of character development benefits from similar dedication.
The gradual process of discovering quirks like Jinx’s backward abilities, or Jacob’s fiery Irish temper, have led me to contemplate exactly how much time I dedicate to the real people in my life. Also, how much of that time is quality time spent talking or interacting, versus doing something passive like watching a movie?
And then there’s the simple art of listening. We all have casual friends. You know, the person who you know their first name, but not their last. The ones who you see in the hall and say, “Hey, how you doing?” and pass by without waiting for the response.
These casual friends are the literary equivalent of place-holder characters – undefined, unspecified in depth and detail – not because those details don’t exist, but because we haven’t taken the time to discover them.
This lesson has become more and more apparent to me ever since I began writing. Now in the process of finishing my third book, I’ve learned that I have to stop and wait for the answer if I ever want to truly get to know someone.
Characters, like people, might initially respond with a casual “I’m fine, how are you?” but that doesn’t really tell you much about them, does it? That’s where persistence pays off. Follow up questions are key: “What have you been up to? By the way, what is it you do for a living? I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this before…”
These types of questions open the door for stronger friendships, and develop the same ties as writing exercises like character biographies and playing Stranger In the Room.
So the next time you’re looking to explore a character, ask yourself how you would improve a friendship. You may just find that enhancing one helps increase the other.