There’s a lot of personal stuff that I don’t delve into very often. My life has a tendency to lean towards the dramatic, and maybe that’s partly my fault, but sometimes it comes down to the cards we are dealt.
I took this selfie to prove a point. I was thinking about this idea while I was waiting to see my endocrinologist. My face doesn’t reflect someone who is sick. In fact, I’m arguably in better physical condition than I have been in my entire life. I’m interval running, doing strength training, and bouldering when I have the time. I’m keeping in shape.
Just because I look petite and fit doesn’t meant I lack underlying problems. The phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” also applies to people (as well as characters). While my selfies and I appear fine, I was diagnosed with a pituitary tumor two years ago. Since, I’ve been on medication that sometimes makes me nauseous and dizzy.
Two years, and I’m sharing my story publicly. I sat in the waiting room, anxiously hoping my doctor would schedule me another MRI to see if my tumor is continuing to shrink. If so, I might not be on medication the rest of my life. If not, I’m stuck on these meds whether I like it or not.
How does this pertain to writing?
We all have stories. We all have backgrounds and histories. Most people have extraordinarily interesting ones if you spend the time asking the right questions. You can learn so much from asking people about their history, even ones that look ordinary.
One of my dearest friends moved to the other side of the country recently. One of my first interactions with her was her asking me questions rapid fire. She wanted to know all about my life, and then asked more questions based on my answers to what she had asked. There was no active listening, no interruptions, just questions and pure curiosity for the type of person I am. For me, it was originally unsettling. So many personal details came out during our conversation, yet, after a while, she made me comfortable with it. She cared genuinely, and that made me want to open up, share my history with her.
Reflecting on this notion of personal histories has made me a more curious person, a more understanding person, and more passionate about developing characters who have intricacies and inconsistencies based on their emotional state.
Everyone has a story to tell. Every cover and facade hides an entire history that makes up the person you see. When we write, those histories evolve in our characters. We may plot it out before we write, or we might have some minor details surprise us along the way. These histories create well-rounded characters. They also make ones that are more tangible and real.
Think of your own backstory. What are some of the things that don’t come up in casual conversation? Now, here’s the harder question: why doesn’t it come up? Because it’s uncomfortable? It’s awkward and weird? I find that some of my best friends I’ve made through being thrown off. Sure, small talk works in some scenarios, but it’s the questions that happen after that make stories real, make people real.
When we write, we have to break through the small talk with our characters. We have to know their motivations through and through. We know their histories, why they think the way they do. I think as writers, sometimes it’s harder for us to go beyond the small talk with people. Recently, it has been a personal challenge to develop deeper relationships by breaking through that surface level conversation. I’m hoping by doing so, I’ll be inspired to make more developed characters.
Who is your favorite character with a unique history? What makes you love them? Is it their past or their present that makes you connect with them?