Monday, March 22, 2010

Who ARE You?

"The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

`Who are you?' said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I--I hardly know, sir, just at present-- at least I know who I WAS when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.'"

Who are you? Easy question. Tricky answer.

Get to know your characters. Discover their histories. Uncover their ambitions and their dreams. Embrace their flaws. Some writers do this by writing mini-biographies, some do it by simply ploughing ahead and discovering as they go. Do what works for you - but the better you know your characters the truer they become.

Get to know yourself as a writer. This is all about self-trust. You can read every how-to book in the world, but only you know what works for you. Brush up your grammar? Certainly. Perfect your technique. But find your own style - it's there just waiting to be uncovered.

Who are you? That is the question. It's a question both for our characters and for ourselves. Find the answer and you find your voice.


  1. Finding our voice in self and characters is so important. Our voice makes us unique. Our characters should be unique too.

    Great post.

  2. I love Alice in Wonderland- I use some of the quotes as my classroom Quotes of the Day.

    It's awfully hard to write a novel without knowing your characters. It can be done, but it involves an awful lot of rewriting!

  3. JW; Thanks. Glad to see you're back!

    Stephanie; I've always found characters are not who I think they are - they're always full of surprises and new layers. Like onions that don't make you cry.

  4. Self trust. I totally agree. Learning to trust yourself and your writing is the most difficult lesson of all.

  5. Carol; Isn't it? It ought to be easier. I'm just saying.

  6. How do you do Characters, Elspeth? I think you're an outline person, but do you carry that over to characterization, as well.


  7. I let my characters walk around in my head for a while before I start to write. I don't write down character lists, but I think I know them well. :) Great points!

  8. Galen; I do mini-bios. If I know their backgrounds, I'll know their vocabulary. It also gives me a glimpse into their likes and dislikes - but more is always revealed when I start writing. However, the bio DOES help me avoid 'out-of-character' behaviours.

    Jemi; Whatever works! The Paralympics ended this weekend. The party is over. So sad.

    Karen; I'm glad you liked it. Short, but sweet. Sometimes less IS more - as I always said to my actors when I was directing.

  9. Great point...we need to know who WE are AND who they are.

    I love Alice drawings!

    Mystery Writing is Murder

  10. Elizabeth; Aren't they wonderful? I love the originals.

  11. Elspeth - Thanks for sharing those terrific drawings : ). And you're right. We really do need to think about who our characters are as people. Otherwise, we won't write them in authentic ways. And, since our characters come from us, we need to think about our selves, too. Sometimess that kind of introspection is really valuable.

  12. Loved this post.
    The last couple of days, I have been wondering why I write, and after a lot of deliberation am coming to the conclusion that writing is the best way to get those characters out of my head.
    My problem, I think, is that I know my characters too well - if I didn't, I would be a happy non-writer.

  13. Oh my so philosophical today! But I agree we must know those characters and hopefully somewhere down the road they will help us see who we are too.


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