Paper people


Youthwrite camp, day four: creating characters:

We humans are incredibly social animals. We keep inventing new ways to communicate with one another. We are fascinated and obsessed with each other. We love to find out what others are doing, what they're up to, what secrets they might be hiding. So much so that we invent imaginary people and become interested in their lives as if they were real. Maybe sometimes we come to think of these paper people as even more real than the people around us. (Think of all the Joyce fans who spend June 16th in Dublin retracing the steps of Leopold Bloom, who only ever existed in the pages of Ulysses.) Even those who are shy and don’t like to be around other people will often spend their alone time reading about the adventures of imaginary people or watching them on TV.

As a writer, how do you create paper people who are interesting, surprising, and have some depth and believability? One way is to get to know as much about them as you can. For example, you can borrow personality traits from real people you know. Another way is to expand your knowledge of your character beyond the “window” of time that the story takes place in.

Exercise: let’s say your story takes place during a week in the life of your character (the most important week in this person’s life, let's hope). But what about all the other moments of your character’s life? 

Write the scene of your character’s birth, or death. 

Where does it take place? Who else is there? Was there anything unusual about the event?

Illustration: T Wharton

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