I had always fancied myself a creator of characters so naturally, I chose fiction as my genre for my thesis in college. I had a story idea in my head. I had a fully fleshed out main character and a believable setting- or so I thought. I sat down to write a story about a character I’d created, and I lamented over every move. My pen got stuck when it should have been effortlessly (ha!) floating across the page, articulating scenes of great triumph and emotional connection and maybe even great pain. Instead, I stumbled over the smallest of details. My scenes were missing vital elements. My characters were flat. I couldn’t understand why. I felt defeated and started questioning my decision on being a writer.
I sat at a wobbly round table in a dingy coffee shop, lamenting to my writing mentor while I shoved the ice cubes in my green tea down with my straw. She listened quietly while I rambled. A half smile crossed her lips as I continued. When I finished my rant she said, “Maybe you should write your story.”
“What? Why?” I said flatly.
I purposely avoided my story. I wanted nothing to do with the me in memoir, because I thought it was a little egotistical and unnecessary to write about myself. I wanted to write about other people. Tell their stories. I relayed these thoughts to my mentor. The dreaded memoir she said (that I had no intention of writing), might be my only way out.
The characters we create, regardless of their sex or attitude, each have a shred of the writer within them. Sometimes the similarity between writer and character is obvious. Sometimes it lay under the surface where only the author knows about it. Whether it’s apparent or not, these fictional characters encompass some part of the writer. For that reason, the writer must know herself to the core. She must know where she came from and how her life experiences have shaped her. She needs to understand where she was a victim of circumstance and where her choices directly shaped. The writer must know what she likes, dislikes, and stands for. And the only way to know such things is to truly understand her story. For a writer the examination of her story usually comes from writing it down (or therapy, but we’ll go with writing).
When my mentor explained this to me, a little piece of me understood. I thought about the events of my life, chose a timeframe to start with, and grudgingly sat down to write my story. Though I can’t write on how it felt to complete this piece as I’m still writing it, I can tell you that my experience thus far has not been what I anticipated. Through the writing, I discovered when and why many of my little quirks were formed. I began to understand many of my likes and dislikes, why I react to certain situations the way that I do, and how my environment informed my decisions and how I view myself. There wasn’t any ego involved. Reading what I had written was very much like reading any other novel or story- I was discovering something new.
The process has been extremely helpful. When I look back at the character I created for that work of fiction, I can see why I was getting stuck. I couldn’t make the character do what I wanted her to do, because I didn’t understand where her actions were coming from.
I can say (to my mentor’s delight) that I now understand why for some authors, writing our own story needs to happen before we can push ourselves out of the way in order to let the characters we create flourish.
Have you considered writing your story?
Photo credit: Flickr.com user MugeSoydan