BLOG CHAINMy wonderful Crit partner, Michelle McLean started this round on the Blog Chain.  Her topic was:

Do you choose WHAT you do because of WHO you are? Or is who you are determined by what you do?

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.)

Check out Kat for her take on Michelle’s question, and Sarah’s post tomorrow.


13 thoughts on “Blog Chain: Going Philosophical

  1. I like to build my characters from the inside out. The more layers I can add, the better. Very well thought out response to this question! I don’t know what I’m going to say when it comes my turn!!

  2. haha Excellent post! 🙂 And yep, my character is much better for the original conversation 😀 I learn so much from you guys, I’m so lucky and happy to have you for crit mates 😀

  3. Hi 🙂
    I write my characters after getting in their heads, seeing their world through their eyes, with their motivations, emotions, and thoughts.
    Great post!
    Thanks for sharing,
    All the best,

  4. I think my character development comes from the character’s soul as well as the events that happen in the character’s past and during the course of the story. I build the character by giving him/her a past and whether or not I incorporate their past into the story, it helps to define the soul of that character. I feel like I’m talking in circles…. but I think the process has to be difficult if you’re trying to craft a “real” character.

    I have to say, this is such a many layered topic! And I’m not talking about an easy to peel, onion-type topic. I’m talking iceberg lettuce, wrinkled and almost impossible to peel topic! My brain hurts! 😉

  5. I loved your answer, Christine! I also feel like a jerk because for whatever reason my google reader kicked you off my list and I’ve missed your last couple of posts 😦 But I’ve fixed the problem so it won’t happen again.

  6. Interesting take on the question! For me, characters become three-dimensional over time, as I get to know them. It’s not just how they view the world (that’s important too), but I also have to learn their strengths and weaknesses, their pasts, their little quirks, etc.

  7. Very interesting response. I like to think I build my characters after trying to look through their eyes first and “walk through” the novel. Sometimes it works easily, and sometimes it’s alot of work.

  8. Ooh, I love the twist!

    I find that I have a hard time writing a character’s action if I don’t know them on the inside yet. I need to know why they’re doing something, or I feel like it won’t be authentic. After all, all of our actions are motivated, so a character’s should be, too!

  9. Great take on the question. I agree with what others have said about characters needing their own soul to feel authentic, to be created from the inside-out.

  10. Ohhhh. This is a great way to look at this. Before I start writing my characters, I talk to them. I listen to their voices and find out what they’re all about. It’s sort of a cycle. Their soul informs their tastes which inform their soul. I build my characters like a tornado. The swirl picks up pieces from the outside and brings them to the middle.

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