At the end of a story, the main character usually has changed in some way. What about you as a writer – have you changed as well?
I found that getting to know characters as I write about them changes how I look at people in my daily travels. Not in some “he’s-lost-his-grip-on-reality” way, but by understanding how people change over time as life happens.
A while ago, I decided to add depth to one of my characters by making him an alcoholic. It would have been easier to stick to the scripted paths you see in countless TV shows, but as he grew in the story he felt too real (to me) for that to work. I wrote each scene with him normally, then made changes to his actions and emotions based on two desires – his need to atone for past mistakes, and the fear of succumbing to self-destructive habits. The results left me sensing a hint of fear behind my character’s decisions and brought forward his sometimes desperate push to maintain a sense of control, especially during stressful encounters.
Did I end up with an accurate portrayal? I can’t really say. I may not have nailed the struggle that alcoholics face each day, but I cannot deny that I think and feel differently about it.
Today marks the 24th anniversary of my enlistment into the US Navy. That’s right, on a wintry evening long ago I was stepping off a bus in Great Lakes, IL, and the start of what would prove to be one of the defining periods of my life when it led to sixteen years of military service with four different branches (if you count the National Guard as a branch).
So much has changed since that day. Besides getting older, fatter, and ambulatory disabled, that young hick from Iowa learned how to plan for more than the next twenty-four hours, fix most broken equipment, trust strangers with his life and in turn save their lives as well. If I were a character in one of my stories, there would be enough material to cover several books in the series just from military service alone.
I credit my current position in life to December 3rd, including my pseudo-career as a fiction writer. My first published work was written as I stood on watch in the wee hours of the morning. Each subsequent piece built upon places I visited and people I met along the way, like the time I laughed non-stop for almost an hour as two crewmen taunted each other over their accents!
“… say Baah-ston,” the NY native would crow.
His rival from MA would shout back, “Say Law-ng Eye-land….”
I haven’t used them in a story yet, but I’m sure they will end up in one some day.