My two-year-old granddaughter is obsessed with pigs. She loves to draw pigs, read about pigs, she even likes to dress up like a pig. I bet if someone asked her she’d say her favourite book was “The Three Little Pigs.” The week she visited with us, she wore her pig hat most of her waking hours. At night, she’d often wake and cry, “Want to be a pig.” Oh yeah, she’s got a real pig identity problem.
As a writer, I can relate to how she feels. When my writing is going well, and the story is flowing, it usually means I’m writing in character. What’s writing in character? Simple. As events pop up along the way, I feel the character’s emotions, as surely as if I were that character. Now, I don’t usually feel the need to dress up, but I’ve heard of some writers who do, to make their writing feel more authentic. I’m no one to judge, if it helps someone make it through a scene I’m all for it.
Personally speaking, writing in character provides me with insights into the thoughts, emotions and actions of the characters, but it doesn’t mean the story will automatically write itself. Oh no, there’s a little bit more to it than that. For me, character is important, as important to the story as the people in my life. When I’m out and about in the world, the things I do always seem to pale in comparison to the interaction with the people involved. I know not everyone shares this sentiment. That’s okay. There’s a quote by Maya Angelou that goes like this: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This kind of sums up the way I feel about the characters I write. At the end of the book, I’d like them to be remembered for the way they made you, as a reader, feel.
So, like any two-year-old, Miss Charlotte might sometimes be a bit confused about the character she’s portraying and exactly which way she’s headed, the laughs and giggles she presents us with is what we’ll remember the most. In a few days she’ll be bringing her mom for another visit, and while I’m not sure if the pig hat is still part of her everyday apparel, I’ll always look back with fondness at those days when nothing seemed more important to her than her declaration of, “Want to be a pig!”
Writers, do you always know which way your character is going or do you show up and wait to see what happens? Do you ever write in character?