Stranger Danger, or, I Volunteered

By: Aryanne Ferguson

To learn about someone new, you begin at the surface level. And it’s only by asking questions, by showing interest, that a stranger gradually turns into a person. It’s the same with writing a character, Reader. Whether you’re writing or reading, there’s a first impression. And then – if you care to – you write more or read on.

Change that stranger from a character into a person. (Source: theharriedmom.com)

This past Saturday, I was part of a volunteer group who spent the day repairing an elderly woman’s house (painting, cleaning, donating the clutter, walking the dog, new kitchen tile, toilet replacement, etc.). At 7:30 a.m. I found myself part of a 3-person team tasked with painting a furnished bedroom eggshell white. Putting up a couple coats of paint in a big room is a slow job: move all the furniture to the middle of the room, protect the baseboard with painters tape, lay down drop cloths, accidentally drip paint on a chair and have nothing to wipe it off with but your hand… While we worked (and progressively coated ourselves in paint), we talked, and by the end of the day I knew what they did for a living, where they lived, where they dreamed of moving next, and I got some great restaurant recommendations.

Source: house-painting.com

Lesson learned? If I want the characters I write to be less like characters and more like people, I need to spend time with them, whether it’s crammed in an upstairs room maneuvering around old furniture and trying not to get high off paint fumes, or taking a well-deserved break for lunch outside in the sun, those hours together are key. Only by spending time with my characters do they become people. I can hear you ask, how do I spend time with a character? By writing of course! I may only publish one of the character’s stories, but no life is made up of one story. So write the scenes you know you’ll probably cut from the manuscript – the act of writing will pull you closer to knowing just who you’re writing. And that’s worth it.

Are you strangers to your characters?

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