I’ve been thinking about character a lot lately. About what it means to develop a character through the story arc, through description and through actions. How well do we know those around us, such that we could capture their personalities on paper? Fortunately, we can make our character’s foibles fit our plot needs; tune their hair color, skin color, tics and whatever else we need to suit our story.
Kwame Alexander wrote a piece on character skin color that’s worth reading. The focus on skin color that fills our news plays out in the fictional world as well. I’m inclined to develop a character with green, blue, purple or some color I make up just to permit everyone to be able to see themselves in the character. But skin color alone doesn’t define us. Beneath the skin we all have the same colors: blood, muscle, fat, bone. What really defines us is how we chose to live our lives, what forces effect that decision, how our personalities play out against those forces. These factors don’t have color.
Some authors don’t tell the reader what color the character’s skin is to allow them to fill in that blank with whatever color makes them feel more affinity with the character’s plights. I’m intrigued by that but don’t think it addresses the essential truth. It is through speech, movement, actions, thoughts and decisions that a character is distinguished. By reading we gain understanding and then appreciation for all people, religions, preferences, life styles, cultural background and political positions.
This pair of poems describes the role characters take as we(authors) develop them and they(characters) whisper in our ears what our pens should write.
Detached from the Strings of the Author #1
When are we ready to cut the strings?
Maybe after we’ve described them
So well you’d know them on the street
Hair color – black
Handedness – left
Eyes – dark as the deepest part of the sky
Where the stars hide
Or maybe after they meet that one
That gets in their way
Chokes their joy
No, it’s when they wake us up
After the crickets have stopped
And demand release
Only then is it time
Detached from the Strings of the Author # 2
Barely visible strings
Pull my wrist
Force my hand to wave
My author decides when
I have no choice
Which way I go
Whose hand I hold
The battles I wage
My character profile is complete
Have a dog and never say “apparently”
As in “apparently I’ve screwed up and this damn author won’t let me go”
But stumble I must
If they want a book launch party
The scissors are in the kitchen drawer
The one my strings won’t let me reach.