Style and Character

SunsetDo you have style and character? Do your characters? A lot of writers tend to depend a little too heavily on using stereotypes when creating their characters and this is not a wise choice. The problem isn’t that stereotypes are there to use, but more that it tends to show only too well that an author truly hasn’t invested a lot of time in defining all the intricate layers of who their character is and is not. Without that definition, a character becomes more like a cardboard cutout rather than a flesh and blood person and if you’re striving to have your readers “suspend their disbelief” a stereo-typed character isn’t going to do that.

I realize that doing character backgrounds on every individual is a lot of work. It requires time, good record-keeping and the investment of a lot of energy figuring out who your character is, where they are in their lives and what they are capable of doing or not doing. However, if you choose to not do these things, anyone who does any amount of reading isn’t going to want to stick with you for very long. They will see that you have not developed your characters with any sort of depth which translates into the fact that you are asking complete strangers to invest time and possibly money on what you’ve written, yet you have not done the same for your work.

If you don’t care about your characters why should anyone else? It’s like planting a garden with a bunch of different seeds but not taking the time to read the specific care guidelines for the plants you’ve chosen. If you get a few that grow, how are you going to know how to care for them if you haven’t taken the time to learn how to nurture them? Characters in your story are the same. You can’t nurture a characters’ growth if you don’t know where they came from or what makes them tick. They’ll never get to where they need to go and in return, neither will you.

Writing anything of any importance, either for yourself or for others is much like going to school. It is a process of learning through doing and in this case, the doing is the writing and the learning comes from how your thoughts become sentences on the page. It really is a ‘process’ that has a lot more to do with who you are, than who or what you are writing about.

And I know you’ve probably heard it ad naseum over the years from a variety of different sources, but in this case writing is at the top of the list – practice makes perfect. And that is something that can’t be stressed enough. If you take the time to read something you wrote, say 5 or even 10 years ago you will see how your writing ‘style’ has changed compared to today. That is something that doesn’t happen by itself, it happens because you are always learning and refining your style whenever you write. And in a few months or even a year from now, you will have evidence that your practice has made you a better writer and your readers will thank you for it.

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Publishing, Writing and Re-Visiting

I recently had the opportunity to re-visit articles and pieces I wrote as a contributor for a local newspaper. This kind of activity is not one for the faint of heart. Mostly it feels rather nostalgic to see what you were thinking, doing and believing at certain moments in time – in other ways once you begin actually reading what you’ve written, the urge to ‘take it back’ or re-write it is very strong. I’ve had this happen with more than one form of writing, whether it be a short fictional piece, an article or even a journal entry. And it got me thinking that what we believe is a great piece of work today will always have room for improvement in the future.

Why does this happen? Well I believe that we are only as good as our perspective, circumstances and belief systems allow and until you gain more experience, changes in your perspective and adjustments to your belief system you won’t obtain enough distance to truly ‘see’ your own work. Which makes me wonder what published authors who have their work in print feel about things they wrote several years ago. Anything that is already ‘out there’ and in a hard copy format cannot be re-written or taken back. It can be re-published possibly, although I’m sure quite rare considering that you would likely have to be a very popular author to justify such a thing.

I suppose that a published book or words written on a page or published in a periodical is much the same as the process anyone feels working in the creative field, such as artists, photographers, film-makers and all those associated with the entertainment or information industry. Once it is done, it is done and must be forgotten or celebrated and let lie, otherwise, you would not be able to move forward with producing better or more interesting works. Which is what makes the creative field of employment so different from other fields of work. Certainly you can make mistakes in any job but it is highly unlikely that there will be more than a handful of people who know of it, and that just isn’t the case in a position where many people are witness to your work and creations.

Which makes me wonder why so many people want the kind of experiences that puts your work before more than a handful of people that displays on a large scale, who you are and what you can and cannot do. Why would anyone desire the kind of public attention that artists, writers and actors are exposed to as a part of their everyday life? I think the answer lies in the fundamental desire of many (but not all) people, who want to be seen and heard and known by more than those they see every day or even in the places they live. I think that these individuals (myself included), want to be seen and heard on much larger scale than they are able to reach in their everyday lives. Not because they are starved for attention (although some are) or have inflated views of who they really are, but because they feel they have something to share with more than just their small circle of friends, family and aquaintances and that what they have to share is important.

I am aware that there are many who believe that what they have to say or share is more important than anything else someone else could share and will do anything to get that kind of attention. But that’s not what I’m referring to here. I believe that everyone has something to share with others and the only question that needs answering is in whether or not it can be shared on a small or large scale. And also that no matter what you need or want to share with others, whoever needs to hear you will hear you. Whoever needs to see you will see you and whomever needs whatever it is that is uniquely you, will somehow and in some way receive it.