Christopher Slater: Can a writer learn about life from their characters?

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Sometimes the movies and books that we appreciate the most stick out in our minds because of the lessons that we learn from them. Probably the most obvious example comes from Winston Groom in the character of Forrest Gump. Although the character was markedly different between the book and the movie, we all learned lessons from Forrest Gump through his unique view of the world. Everyone can tell you the relationship between life and chocolates. And who doesn’t know that stupid is as stupid does? I have to wonder if, while Groom was writing the book, he really thought through each of those lines as a writer, or if Forrest Gump had become a living, breathing person in his mind that saw the world that way.

People who don’t write probably think that writers are crazy. That’s because we writers are a little crazy.  When you start to truly write an in-depth story, the characters aren’t just a name that you write down on paper. Their actions, reactions, and point of view should be consistent, as if they were truly there and doing what you are writing down on paper. They should become believable not only to your readers, but to you as the writer as well. Even though they are a creation of your imagination, you should be able to learn from your characters.

I got to experience this in the writing of my novel, Pup. The main character, who goes by the nickname Pup, has a very unique way of looking at the world around him. I started to exercise my creativity with this character by wondering what his reactions would be to various situations that I experienced throughout the day. As time went by, I started to do this without thinking much about it. What resulted (and continues to result) is a series of sayings that I call Pupisms. Some of them are found in the book. Others have shown up on my twitter or Facebook or even on this blog. The funny thing about these Pupisms is that I will sometimes look at them and ask myself “Why don’t I see things that way?” For example, one Pupism states that working for someone else’s approval is like living on Jello. You’ll never feel satisfied. I have to remind myself of that on occasions.

Now, there are probably psychologists out there chomping at the bit to explain how those words are my subconscious trying to lead me in the right direction, etc., etc. I don’t care. The lessons come from a character that I created, and I learned a little something from them. If you are writing a story, don’t just gauge how those characters might react to the situations in your story. Started thinking of how they might react to situations in your life. Once they start to surprise you, or once you start to learn from them, then you know that you have a real character on your hands that’s ready to teach others as well.

 

Chris Slater

Christopher Slater is a middle school history teacher, the inaugural winner of the AuthorsFirst novel writing contest, and one of the most distinctive voices we’ve seen. His debut novel PUP is available now! Visit his website for more.  

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On July 1, 2015
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