Writing the Midwest: On making characters feel real

“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On making characters feel real:

Lee L. Krecklow: They all need to experience some emotions that I can connect with. I need to understand why everyone does what they do; that’s the only way to own them. I’m an excessively empathetic person, one who can see both sides of most arguments, so this isn’t usually an issue for me. That doesn’t mean I’ve experienced or agree with everything my characters do. Far from it. But I can extrapolate my own experiences, push them further emotionally, in order to understand the people I write. A line I’ve used conversationally: I’ve never been punched in the face, but I’ve accidentally walked into a wall, so it’s not a stretch for me to understand taking an unexpected blow to the head.

Bryn Greenwood: I love the way every character brings their own experiences and their own biases to a story, so even when I know I won’t have a place for a particular character’s narrative, I like to investigate how they see things. In case they have some important insight that I don’t…. Where I was dealing with characters who were of similar backgrounds, I had to make much finer distinctions. For example, I had two working class men from the same small Kansas town, both with middle school level education, both mechanics by trade, one older and widowed, one younger and unmarried. I had to look closely at word choice and speech patterns to distinguish them by age, by personality trait, and even religious beliefs. On a surface level, they have similar voices, but they swear differently, they have different conversational tactics, they have differing outlooks on such amorphous things as hope, faith, love, friendship.

Mo Daviau: I say that writing a novel is like doing a long improv scene in my head over the span of years. I suspect that their relationship developed in some of the scenes that I ended up rewriting or cutting from the novel altogether. Even when I’m not actively writing, I think about my characters doing things like shopping together or having a fight over something trivial. A lot of this comes from my years of improv comedy training. If you want to write really solid characters, take an improv class.

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