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  • Writer's pictureM. Laszlo

Character Creation


The creation of a character hinges on a short list of things.

First, the character must embody at least some of the author’s intellectual and/or emotional obsessions. If so, the character will actually care about something and have a viable personality.

Second, the character must be based on either someone specific or a composite of more than one person. This will challenge the writer and force the writer to create someone who would not necessarily think in the same way. In addition, when an author bases a character on a real person, it affords the writer the ability to describe the character’s natural, physical traits. This in turn makes the character real—and more importantly, the specific traits make the character universal. Only by giving the character a set of highly specific physical traits can the reader find the character relatable. This probably follows from the fact that we can all recognize those precise, physical traits in very real friends and relatives and classmates and colleagues that we have known.

Third, the author must let the character make decisions that complement that character’s personality. It would be a mistake to interfere with the character and to make the character enter into the kinds of decisions that the author himself or herself might make. Remember, any character with a problem worth discussing probably won’t have the same level of maturity that the writer has come to have. As such, the character must be free to make bad decisions. For that matter, the character must be free to espouse beliefs and politics wholly different to those held by the writer. Think, too, about the question of honesty. Even if the author tends to be a sincere individual, that’s not to say that the point-of-view character can’t be inclined to deceive others.

Fourth, and finally, the author must permit the character to make moral choices that the author might not have made in his or her life. This heartrending fact alone explains why tone is so crucial. When the writer lets the character go truly free, tone provides the writer the only way to adequately show disagreement or disapproval. 

 

Something Happened: How the Past Event Implies a Timeless Lesson Regarding the Facts of Life

 

When we look out at the world, we seek to understand the phenomena—and as we seek to do that, we quickly realize that nothing can help us other than our memories. Here’s the thing, though: the remembrance of persons, places, and things past enlightens only because we readily recollect important concepts. That’s why we love to read books written in the past tense. We can assume that something important must have happened in order to have inspired the pages in our hands.

We might as well lose ourselves in the past. Why? Because the ethical issues that face modern society never really change all that much. The struggles are eternal.

When I traveled to London back in the summer of 1985, every impulse told me to keep a diary replete with my thoughts and observations. Still, even then, the things that haunted me were the things that happened in the recent past.

            Thinking back to that summer of 1985 in London, one event more than any other really triggered me and pretty much ensured my resolve to someday address the human condition. At one point, a bunch of us traveled north to Liverpool, where we stayed in the dorms—which doubled as youth hostels back in the day. At any rate, in the morning, the Beatles’ Museum came to collect us in the Magical-Mystery-Tour bus, at which point the curator proceeded to give us a guided tour of all the places in the city pertaining to the Beatles’ lives and/or the lyrics to the songs. After a while, we came to the gates of Strawberry Fields Orphanage. It was then that the curator/guide told me an absolutely heartrending true-life tale: evidently, one summer before, a young man had traveled from South America to take the Magical Mystery Tour—and when he had reached the gates of the orphanage, he had backed up into the street in order to get the perfect shot of the iconic gate. Sure enough, a motorcar had come along and had killed him. At that point, the curator told me all about how the young man’s parents had then traveled from South America, only because they had wanted to see the place where their beloved son had died. And according to the curator, when she had brought them to Strawberry Fields Orphanage, the young man’s parents had wept so hard that they had both ended up clinging to the gate lest they fall to their knees.

            As a youth of seventeen years, the story was as devastating as anything anyone had ever told me. The story haunts me to this day, and it influenced the ending of one of my novellas, (Mouvements Perpètuels to be precise.) There was no avoiding it, though. The simple but haunting true story was the first time that someone had ever really confronted me with the necessity of addressing the preciousness and fragility of life. Also, it should come as no surprise that the Strawberry Fields tale ultimately came to serve as the anchor and lynch pin for a novella that compares and contrasts the abortion issue and the euthanasia issue alike. In a way, the young man who died at the gates of that orphanage became my muse. That’s my feeling anyway.

            To be sure, all authors have similar kinds of wounds that they endeavor to heal through the art of writing. Perhaps this is why the sensitivity factor is so important. One must be prepared to examine issues surrounding power and privilege and saviorism and such. In a sense, though, book lovers have always been this way. Back in the eighteenth-century literary salons of Berlin, Rahel Varnhagen discussed anything and everything with Goethe, Brentano, and whoever else might be reading selections on any given night. Let’s not forget, though, that more often than not, those authors discussed and debated stories from the past—the stories and true-life events that had served to inspire their poetry. The same applies to authors. Whenever we do zoom calls and that kind of thing, the feeling is one of belonging to a really conscientious literary salon. Again, though, the tales that people share always center around wounds experienced in the past.

            One last thing. When we engage in the remembrance of persons, places, and things past, we unconsciously acknowledge that other cerebral function—the impulse to think presciently and to prepare for the unknown. As ironic as it might seem, nothing really helps us to prepare for the future quite like a heartfelt reckoning with the past event.

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