Monday, April 13, 2009

Developing character

Had a fascinating discussion with fellow non-fiction writer Jerry Waxler who writes (and lives) memoir about the development of character in non-fiction. His latest essay in his fascinating blog Memory Writer's Network deals with the mental connections reader's must make in order to full realize a character.

"Books don’t tell us everything about a character all at once. They drop in a fact here and a scene there, and the reader’s mind accumulates a deeper understanding of that character in bits and pieces across many pages." - Jerry Waxler

No truer advice ever spoken. With non-fiction it's particularly difficult, as we, as researchers, must first investigate, piece together, and interpret the essential truth of a person for ourselves before we can attempt to translate that onto the page. But that character translation is the most essential thing to our work. I find that the only thing worth writing is character. Character reveals plot and plot changes character.

Through endless glimpses here and there, as Waxler wrote, by dropping in a fact every now and then, we build a mosaic illustration of a human being. It's a beautiful and bizarre thing, something akin to magic when it happens. If you can give your readers only one glimpse of the essential truth of one person, then you've accomplished the near-impossible.

Is it ever really possible, you ask, to capture a human being on the page, anyway? Or on the screen for that matter? In paint? In music?

Well, perhaps not. But hell if we won't try.

Jerry Waxler's memoir blog:

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