How to Build [a] Character

                                                                                  Photo by Favim.
My pastor has this saying that he uses to illustrate how we build our character, and I couldn't help but think how it would also be useful in building literary characters. This is how it goes:
  1. Sew a thought, reap an action.
  2. Sew an action, reap a habit.
  3. Sew a habit, reap a character.
  4. Sew a character, reap a destiny.
Some characters come to us complete - living, breathing beings. Others come to us partially complete - with a few details that need addressing. And still others, we need to build from the ground up. For the sake of example, we will work with one that needs complete building. There are a few questions you will need to answer to start:
  1. What does he/she looks like? Does he/she have distinguishing features?
  2. Name at least three flaws and strengths of this person?
  3. Any unusual habits? phrases? opinions? that make him/her different from the norm?
  4. What is unique about he/she's background/family?
  5. Is he/she optimistic/pessimistic by nature?
  6. What is he/she's view of life? (faithful, undecided, or otherwise)
  7. How will the totality of their character mold their destiny?
My character Rowena, for example, has flaming red hair that is long and hangs in tendrils. She is insecure, quiet, and painfully shy, but she is deep, has and old soul, and intriguing to many. She wears rosemary in her hair (for the smell), wears a rosary as a bracelet, and believes in the metaphysical world. She grew up without a mother, with a blacksmith as a father. She's unsure and slightly pessimistic by nature, but turns to her faith in times of distress. Her character traits lure someone to her that will change her life and his forever.

In order to have realistic characters, they must have strengths, flaws, opinions on life, habits, differences, and some type of background. (I'm sure there are things I've missed, but you get the picture.) Next time your creating a character, I hope that you will find the phrase useful in building a rounded character. For more information about building characters, see my other posts How to Create the Greatest Character You've Always Known and Character Development: Let's Play 20 Questions.

Write on! :)

What is Art: An Exploration of Your Writing Style and Ideas

Photo by Favim.
So, it's fall. And just as the squirrels stock their nuts, so too do we stock our books (which sometimes makes us look like a nut). You know you have a problem when your book shelves are two to three books deep, and there's still books that find their way in some inconspicuous corner of the room. Ahhh... I love fall. How about you?
I wish I could say that my hiatus from blogging has been because I've been stuck in some fantasy land of some spectacular book. Unfortunately, that's not entirely the case. I'm in my last semester of college, and it's a doozy. ONLY six more weeks!! I digress.
What's really been occupying my thoughts and my time lately is this looming question of "What is Art?" I am writing a research paper on it, but more importantly I've become most interested in the styles of art. I've started to evaluate what art is to me. I should note that when I say "art" I am lumping everything in: writing, music, drawing, painting, etc. But for this post, let's keep it focused on writing. In order to write good art, should we not first have to search our minds and hearts of what we feel art truly is? I think so, and I must admit that analyzing art has vastly changed my writing style and purpose.
There are numerous literary arguments about what makes good art. I have narrowed them down to two just to keep it a simple post: Romanticism, Realism, Modernism. I feel that these are particularly important in today's writing.
  • Romanticism - A belief that art exists somewhere out there, and the writer is merely a transcriber. The writer does sometimes create characters, scenes, etc., but the real story and characters have their own story to tell. There is also is an interest in the metaphysical.
    • The Brothers Grimm's stories are a good example of Romantic art.
  • Realism - A belief that life should imitate art. The art is created by using real life scenarios and situations that are meant to draw in  readers' own experiences. With realism, there is little need for suspension of disbelief. No fantasy.
    • Mark Twain's work is a good example.
  • Modernism - Modernists do not follow typical and expected literary techniques: plot, climax, conclusion. They usually are sparse in words and do not leave audiences with concrete ideas or endings. 
    • An example of Modern poetry would be H.D. and Pound. An example of Modern drama would be Beckett's Waiting for Godot.
These are just my own, on the fly, definitions, so feel free to explore them further.
Now that we've got a few of the terms out of the way. (I don't expect all of you to be English majors.)  We can explore the concepts of art. Below is a series of questions that I asked myself when coming up with my theory of art. Think about your own writing when reading these:
  1. Any fantasy or metaphysical (outside what we can see)?
  2. Is the work allegorical? What ideas does the work plant in the readers' minds?
  3. Are the characters living, breathing, and have their own story? Do they come to your mind nearly fully formed?
  4. Do you look for beauty of real life and try to convey it through words?
  5. Does the work deal with some social problem?
  6. Is the work simply "art for art's sake?"
  7. Does the work mirror a specific author's style? If so, what did he/she feel about art?
  8. Is there a need for suspension of disbelief at some point in the work? (Think Coleridge's "Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner.")
  9. Are you trying to convey a human condition in your work?
  10. Do you plan your work methodically or let it flow spontaneously?
  11. If you were asked to give a reason for why a reader should read your work, would it be:
    1. To be entertained
    2. To provide an escape into something different
    3. Because it highlights societal issues
    4. Because it is different than anything he/she would have ever read
    5. Because it is a unique story
I could go on, but hopefully, you've found something in these questions that have you thinking about your own writing. When I went through these questions (and lots more), I came to the realization that my work and my style falls into the Romantic category. I write about the metaphysical, and my characters have their own stories. I rarely even know what is going to happen when I sit down and write. I agree with Tolkien that works shouldn't be allegorical because that could easily be construed and resented as propaganda. I tried to think about why I read and what I like to read too. I like some type of fantasy and something that makes me suspend my disbelief because I want to escape and be entertained. A great work that explores Romantic art well is Pirandello's Six Characters in Search of an Author.
I expect some of you are shaking your head right now in disagreement with my style and statements, and that's good. We need variety in the book world! But some of you are in agreement, and that's better because you're on my side! lol (only kidding) The point is, how can we create art that's meaningful to us if we haven't explored what we think makes good art?
Here's the fun part... now that I've told you mine, it's only fair that you tell me yours. Go ahead. Tell me what you think, or feel free to ask questions. Don't be shy. :)