My wonderful Crit partner, Michelle McLean started this round on the Blog Chain. Her topic was:
The short answer is both – like Sandra said, it’s a nature/nurture question. I am genetically predisposed to a particular set of skills – let’s say playing the viola (which I did and at a very high level for long time). I have the visual-spatial aptitude needed to read music, the emotional characteristics to understand the deeper, emotional aspects of music, and the physical dexterity necessary to make my fingers fly across my instrument.
However, if I did not also practice many hours each day, take risks to try out for various orchestras and musical groups, and the determination to keep at it, none of my genetic attributes would have mattered. It required both nature and the environment for me to become a good violist.
Now, I’m going to swing this topic into a completely different direction. Brace yourselves – I don’t want to give you whiplash.
You see, I was part of the original conversation on this topic and I have a different take on it for that reason. The context of the original discussion was character development. So, in an effort to bring this back to the art of writing, I want to address Michelle’s question as it relates to developing three-dimensional characters.
As you guys no doubt know by now, I am really really really into making my stories authentic. And a huge piece of that involves the characters – their unique voice and personalities – that brings to the storyline itself.
In that context, I find Michelle’s question a fascinating one. I mean, do your characters become three-dimensional as a result of the things they do – their hobbies, and interests? Or does the depth have to come fist? Does there have to be a three-dimensional character on which we thrust various external attributes?
For me, characters are authentic when every action they take comes directly from their soul. Let’s use the example of a painter. From my point of view, this isn’t just a person who paints beautiful landscapes. It is someone who sees the world as a painter does – in many shades of color and light. (My mother is an artist, and trust me, that is exactly how she sees the world). Everything comes from that place of seeing – from the eyes of the artist. It doesn’t matter what activities I give her – the hobbies or the actions. Everything comes through the lens of a person who sees the world as a dance between color and light…a painter.
So, getting back to Michelle’s question and building great characters, I start with the “soul” of the character and layer on the external things afterwards. My hope is that I have a rich and dynamic person when I am finished.
How does this process work for you…do you build your characters from the outside in, or from the inside out?
(Told ya I was going to swing turn this whole topic on its ear! Hope it wasn’t too painful.)