“Dad, you should really quit smoking.”
His harried answer… “I know; I’m trying.”
I watched the father lead his five year oldish little girl to a seat by the window of the smoking room and wasn’t sure whether to be glad he didn’t bring her inside, concerned that he was leaving her by herself (even though he watched her the entire time), or sad that he was so desperate for the cigarette that he had to do something I could tell he didn’t really want to do.
It was a good reminder to me as an author about what is meant by a multi-dimensional character. It was obvious there was depth to what that father was feeling; certainly more than just, must have cigarette, now!
All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. This quote from the header of my website points to many different idea, at least one of which is the concept of depth. Feelings that may be obvious to a casual observer, I need a cigarette, have a deeper cause that are not… I’m scared of flying, my daughter is driving me crazy, I don’t want to visit my mom in xyz city. And this is where the story lies… because there are much deeper feelings that would go along with any of these reasons.
I will admit, my character Jessica from Betting Jessica is far deeper in my own head than I have been able to get down on paper. She lacks purpose in her life, which is seen by her taking on the bet, and I think we are clear that this causes her to feel anger; anger at herself, her friends, Erik.
But what about anger at her father? This is hinted at… her frustration over the names he calls her is a good example, but we never really learn how she feels about her father not understanding or supporting her; about him pushing her into a field because it is what he values. Had I swum deeper I might have shown the battles Jessica fights within herself between living up to his expectations and fulfilling her own life purpose. And I might have even explored why a career in business is so important to her father. But, of course, this would have made a different story, and one I wasn’t ready to tell.
On one level I really like the simplicity of Betting Jessica… I truly believe there is a place in everyone’s life for an easy read; it usually falls right about 9:30 p.m. when we want our brain to shut off and need something fun to distract us. But this should be by choice, not by a lack of character understanding.
I write a fairly thorough biography for each of my characters when I start a new project; and then I constantly test their actions against their bios. So, now I have something new to add… something I think will also remind me to go deeper.
What thoughts and feelings would force my character ______________ to end up in that smoking room?
I am not a smoker; in fact, it is an anathema to me… so asking this question forces me to put aside that prejudice and really study my character’s psyche. Caricatures of literary geniuses always seem to show them at a bar in Paris smoking; and for the first time I totally understand why. Writing with real depth might cause even me to end up in that smoking room.
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