Thursday, May 10, 2018

Dive Beneath the Surface

by Editor in Chief Mary Bast
The world is satisfied with words. Few care to dive beneath the surface.
Blaise Pascal
First-class writers share an enviable knowledge of human nature through deeply drawn characters that illustrate not only what the world sees, but what lies beneath the surface and leads to a unique point of view.

Reading such work helps us all become better writers.  I've described elsewhere John Fowles' development of Sarah Woodruff in The French Lieutenant's Woman.

Below are steps to dive beneath the surface, as suggested by Larry Brooks in "Three Dimensions of Character Development," using Sarah Woodruff as an example:
  1. First, show your character's surface traits, quirks, and habits. Characters like Sarah Woodruff have a self-image as someone who's basically flawed, with a focus on suffering, emotional sensitivity and empathy, aesthetic sensibility, and a push-pull pattern in relationships (idealizing the lover, until reality sets in). Read the early pages of The French Lieutenant's Woman, for example, where Sarah's sobs are "creeping like blood through a bandage."
  2. Second, provide the back story and your character's inner demons: what prompts, explains, and motivates this character? Those like Sarah Woodruff nurture a "story" about not being sufficiently loved, and focus on what's missing or lacking. ("What has kept me alive is my shame, my knowing that I am truly not like other women.")
  3. Third, how would this personality's true character emerge through choices made when something important is at stake? By the end of The French Lieutenant's Woman, Sarah Woodruff is different from many women and unafraid to be so. An assistant and model for a well-known artist, she's developed equanimity -- she is unmarried and unconcerned about conventional attitudes toward her single state in the Victorian era.

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