Monday, July 18, 2011

Do Your Characters Smack of Reality? by Linda Glaz

I just returned from a visit with my wonderful mother-in-law
who has been quite ill. She’s Polish through and through, has
always been a tough cookie, and her stature was such that I have
to admit to having been a bit intimidated by her early on
(I’ve since learned she’s not a tough cookie, but a cream puff).

Now, with illness seemingly winning a battle I never thought she’d
have to face, I watch as this formidable woman, just as my mother
did fifteen years ago, has lost weight, lost energy, and lost her drive.
Her mind, still sharp as a tack has allowed our visits to be a lot of fun,
but I watch as she fights a terrible disease, and I know in my heart,
this is one fight she probably won’t win.

I had the drive home to mull over all the change I saw in her this visit,
and I realized that she’s taught me so much over the last 30 years,
but even in illness, continues to teach me.

We can talk all we want about our characters changing from scene to scene,
and even mention how a person might suddenly seem frail, but do you take
your character from being a robust, active individual, to losing all but
their spark? How far do you allow your reader to get to actually know what
the person is going through?

My mom passed away fifteen years ago, and while she was always a svelte
and beautiful woman, scleroderma and the effects of it on her body left
her a mere 81 pounds. The disease changed more than just how it ravaged
her system, it changed how she looked at what was left of her life. She,
like my mother-in-law now, taught me what really mattered: family, faith,
and the dignity that can be had while fighting a losing battle.

Both of these precious women have taught me so much, and I want to be
able to put their life lessons into my characters. I want them to live
on through the eyes of many of the wonderful women who I expect to grace
the pages of my books. They will never live up to Barbara and Irene, but
I’ll do my best.

Study individuals and draw from them. Listen to the elderly concerning
what life is really about. Listen to the young to understand exuberance.
Spend time with newlyweds to remember what budding passion is all about.
Don’t miss an opportunity to discover the realities of life that should
be part of each of your characters.


Joanne Sher said...

Wonderful advice, Linda. Studying people is the best way to create characters. Sorry about your mother-in-law.

Melissa K Norris said...

This is great advice and speaks of your ability to find the good in a situation.

When on vacation last week, I found myself studying people. I couldn't help wondering about their background and spinning what if's.

Thanks for sharing this great post.

Caroline said...

I've always loved to study people and their actions. Great post, Linda.

Deborah Dee Harper said...


So eloquently said. I'm so sorry about your mother-in-law (and your mom). Seeing those we love (the ones who have taught us so much about life) falter and fail as illness overtakes them is so horrible. Your writing advice is right-on: learn from everyone around us and pass on those characteristics and lessons learned through the characters in our books.

Linda Glaz said...

We keep the people we love alive through memories, and as writers, we are able to take it one step further and keep them alive through our characters.

Cheryl Linn Martin said...

Thanks for this post, Linda. I think about my mom on a regular basis (she passed away in 2008.)

Prayers are going your way and also to your mother-in-law.


jill said...

Indeed, the most imaginative of us could never make up people as interesting as the ones we see every day. But you ask if we really pay attention to them--an excellent question! Thank you.

Kathryn Elliott said...

Real life develops great characters! Sending positive, healing thoughts.

Nikole Hahn said...

When I first began my novel, The Rose Door, I realized I had forgotten something--emotion. I had a broken childhood and I never thought about how I pushed emotion away from my characters until I read something Mary De Muth said. In the rewrite of one of her books, an editor pointed out the lack of emotion.

She's right. I went back and made my characters more real, with flaws and strengths, and emotion. I spent time thinking about them on the way to work, wondering what it would feel like to go from Chicago, Illinois to this medieval world where the basics like toilets don't exist or tooth brushes. I wanted reality meets fantasy with humor. I guess rewrites aren't so bad after all.