Characters with a Story / by Kendall R


The Fruit Talking - Day 73
Originally uploaded by iamkr
I have this story that's been mulling and brewing over a slow heat in the back burner of my imagination. As I think about the characters, the story and all the moving parts that are now in the mix, I am starting to see the flavor come through, the scent of what will be. If I had taken to write the whole thing out in one fell swoop a few years back when the story first came to me, it would be flat, colorless and just one more cute, maybe fanciful piece of fiction. Stories with rich characters take time, and not just talent.

Meeting new people, hearing about their journey, how all the pieces have come together to make them who they are – if I could get paid for this I might just have my dream job. The real characters are far more complicated than the ones we make up in our heads or read in cheaply crafted novels. And this fascinates me.

I wonder, though, as a writer, why it is that so many popular books and popular films have such shallow, two-dimensional characters? Do we celebrate these stories because they seem simple enough, easy to digest and something less like real life? Are we really striving to be, to swim in this kind of shallow water, to be this two-dimensional in our day-to-day living?

I recently heard Hal Holbrook say the reason he is choosing work in lower paying, independent films is because that is where the characters are worth playing; that the blockbuster films don’t engage real life as it effects real people.

I am in constant awe at how multi-dimensional real people can be, even if they aren’t aware of it. Nobody is just a housewife trying to makes sense of things, or just a man with a knack for climbing, or even just a kid filled with his or her dose of angst. There is a story behind the story, with so many moving pieces that make up the person before the here and now. And even here and now will have an effect on who that person will be six months, or a year from now. Kinetic. Perpetual.

So when I revisit this book I’ve been mulling, and think of the few characters involved, I think how I didn’t really know them when I first started, how simple and two-dimensional they were. And that wasn’t enough. Maybe it is that lack of knowing that has kept me from telling their story. I had to hear them out over a few years, and may still have more to come. Their complexity informs the story they are in and where it goes from here. And so it seems to be the case with real characters… if I listen well enough, taking time to let things brew.