It All Builds Character


I’ve been listening to a podcast recently called Inside Creative Writing. It’s by an author and ‘educator’ (that always tickles my Anglo-funny box) called Brad Reed. He’s an amiable chap who has obviously been involved with the craft of writing for sometime now but, instead of pushing it down your throat, he brings guests on and listens to people who write in etc.

He’s only a small man, he came from a place just to the east of Seattle, and although that’s not important it did make a difference to his height. You see, this town where he grew up had a library at the centre of it and everyone would go there. A young Brad would go in there and read ravenously. He devoured everything; all of the classics, all of the comics, even the murder-mysteries, and yet during this period of absorption the terrible tragedy occurred.

While he was sat at the foot of the shelves familiarising himself with Mr Nickleby, a bird flew in through the open window. You know, it was one of those windows that opens from the bottom, the type you get in official buildings. Anyway, this pigeon flew in and began to panic. Young Brad was so engrossed that he didn’t even register the chaos, however the octogenarian librarian did. She lunged at the frightened bird with a full size version of the Collins World Atlas. At the time, she was not sure if she intended to flatten the bird or scare it some more, but in the end all she managed to do was collide head first into the book shelf which poor Brad was sat at the foot of.

The first indication of the pending doom to poor Brad was the top row sliding on to the floor all about him. Unfortunately, this gave him no chance to react before the whole unit came following behind and came crashing down on the top of his young, ginger head. The shelves were made of a thick mahogany and Brad’s head was made of a sturdy, yet delicate, material called bone.

Have you ever seen the coyote cartoons? Brad’s body was driven into the ground like a nail being bashed into a plank of wood. It took four hours for the firemen of that town, just to the east of Seattle, to pull him out. And this is how he now manages to walk around with the arrogance to be a whole foot shorter than he was intended.

Ha, ha, sorry about that, a slight tangent. But it kinds of makes the point that I wanted to make in this post. The podcast is great and it goes in to a different component of great storytelling in each episode. Definitely check it out, at the moment it’s quite new so you haven’t got too many episodes to catch up on. But… the point Michael, the point.

Ah, yes, sorry. The point is that your characters are the most important part of your story. A great plot is, well, great, but if you don’t have the characters to observe within it then forget it. The plot will keep you engaged and turning the pages, but the characters are who you will remember forever.
If I’d have told you to listen to a podcast from Brad Reed then you might have thought, ‘well, this chap is usually on the money with his opinion and advice, so I’ll give it a go.’ But, it would have just been some information which you would have digested along with all of the other information that you soak up through your day. Now though, you’ll always think of the story of a young Brad being flattened by a bookshelf, which was made up by the way, in case you didn’t guess.

Your characters have to be believable,they have to be realistic and act plausibly, it doesn’t matter where they are or what they do but they have to be real. Take time on your characters, work out what they did long before they turned up in your story. You have to know these fellas intimately because then you’re readers will believe.


4 responses to “It All Builds Character

  1. Downloading from iTunes now…
    It’s a subject thats been interesting me lately. So far, beyond a few scribbles, I’ve let my characters grow through my writing – working on the premise that if I know more than the reader, maybe I’ll make assumptions and lose consistency in their eyes. Then I found an interesting approach from Andra Watkins (google ‘The Accidental Cootchie Mama’) who posts little snippets of scenes and conversations her characters have. Allows them to grow away from the main story, but still through writing.
    So many approaches! Be interesting to see what Brad Reed has to say,

  2. Very good point! As a reader I need to feel that i know the characters. I don’t need to like them, just know them. It is through knowing the characters that the hook of interest for me, the reader, is developed.
    Through your anecdote we now all KNOW vertically challenged Brad’s history, we’ll remember him AND his work!
    I’m interested in him, thanks to you, so I’ll look up his podcast. Thanks Mike

  3. I love that you made this up about Brad to pull us into your blog. Now, that is the art of storytelling, and maybe, blogging. Brilliant!

  4. Excellent post. I tend to come up with a story, and then populate it with characters as I go along. I know this is a problem; perhaps your post will help me remember how much of a problem it is!

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