Appreciating the Characters in Our Lives

Sliding Otter News, Volume 2, Issue 6, Appreciating the Characters in Our Lives

Skating van Goghs

Skating Van Goghs

~Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it: the tree is the real thing~
Abraham Lincoln

I recently asked a couple friends to read my novel in progress. Both thought the story idea was good but the characters were weak. Bob Fussell came to my rescue again and suggested I look up Nancy Kress. I found her book Characters, Emotion and Viewpoint.

Characters populate all the stories we read. The better defined and more interesting the characters are, the better we like the story. Lately I found myself immersed in Nancy’s book about characters as well as reading her stories and watching her characters in action.

Story characters can be drawn whole from the author’s acquaintances, modified from a real person or conjured up without any basis in reality. Some authors stress plot rather than their characters. Others base their stories heavily on their characters’ thoughts feelings and actions. It occurred to me that novels and short stories are not the only place we find characters. Our lives are also full of major and minor characters, sometimes passing briefly through our lives. At other times characters take up residence with us, perhaps for years on end.

In our haste to accumulate more things and to enhance our feeling of security or personal importance, we often do not take time to notice the characters around us. I recall a time in my life when the people I knew seemed more important than what happened around me. At times they still are.

As a child, I visited a series of older people whenever I had the chance. Sometimes it was for milk and cookies. Sometimes I helped them with chores. With one couple, I pored over an ancient copy of Land and Sea with color plates of real and mythical sea beasts. They eventually gave me the book.

All of these people are gone now, but I still remember visiting each of them, even if the stories they told are becoming fuzzy. I still remember the people although I don’t recall just what they said to me or I to them. Some of the people I have known over the years have reappeared in whole or in part in stories I have written. My first childhood love, neighborhood bullies, friends and mentors have surfaced from time to time to again form part of the fabric of my life.

Do you ever think about the characters who have passed through your life, whether recently or long ago, and how they have helped shape your personality. They are part of your context and they have played a part in who you have become.

Life Lab Lessons

  • Who have been the main characters in your life so far?
  • What minor characters had the most impact on you?
  • What good example led you to become a better person?
  • What villains have made you vow to never act like them?
  • What effect do you have on those whose lives you inhabit as a character? 
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