Friday, 03 April 2009 15:08
One of the joys of reading is the people we meet within a book’s covers, literary creations who jump off the page and into our lives. How authors do it—how they make their characters come alive for us—is one of the great mysteries of art.
Authors invariably say their characters take on lives of their own. Here’s Stephen L. Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park):
I was occasionally surprised by the messes my characters got themselves into, and the indignant, presumptuous way they demanded that I write a way for them to escape. Random House interview
And here’s Philip Roth with NPR Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:
Some magic, some alchemy between knowing and intuiting takes over and our characters take on lives of their own. First time this happened to me I felt like a real writer…. Julia Cameron nailed it when she wrote, “It’s not about making things up but taking them down.”
Even playwright Edward Albee (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf) when asked whether his characters control him suggested they were somehow alive:
I like to let them think they do. It’s a trick we play on ourselves. They don’t exist, and they can’t say anything unless we write it for them. But it makes them happy to think they’re independent. Boston Phoenix
All this isn’t to say that writers don’t have to think, and think hard, about their characters. I’d like to continue a discussion of character—what goes into making a good one—in another post. Stay tuned.
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