Thursday, August 23, 2012

Another Unexpected Writing Lesson from Real Life

Forgive me if this thought is a bit random and babbling, but it just sort of hit me as I was reading a post this morning. Bear with me, I promise I have a point :)

Late last week, a very good friend of mine from high school unexpectedly passed away. I hadn't spoken to her much in the last few years, other than some Facebook updates, but her death hit me very hard. She had been, at one point in my life, one of my best friends. And though I moved to the other side of the country after graduation, we did keep in contact for several years fairly frequently, and in more recent years, we kept in touch through places like MySpace and Facebook.

Friends and family members have been posting lovely comments about her on her Facebook page. Things about how she will be missed and how wonderful she was, how funny and loving and kind she was, those sorts of things.

Then this morning, someone posted something different. Instead of posting the lovely but pretty vague usual sentiment, this person posted a long list of specific things that she thought of when she thought of Kendra.

Things like how Kendra loved fuzzy socks and hot chocolate. How she made the best bread in the world and liked to dress her girls in striped leggings. How she preferred to sit on the floor, unless you were talking picnic tables - she liked to sit on top of those. How she let her kids play in the mud when other mothers chased their kids away from it. How she liked to play games on her cell phone and reuse things like turning an empty laundry detergent box into scrapbook supplies storage.

I absolutely loved reading this list. The other posts were wonderful, but this one...this one really SHOWED who Kendra was. This one painted a picture for me like none of the others did. It was wonderful being able to see the type of person she had grown into. I could picture the high school girl I'd known as this wonderful and quirky woman that was being described. It made me laugh and smile, even while I was choking back tears.

In fact, I think I will print the post out because through it I can truly SEE my friend.

And because all things in my life eventually get related to writing, it struck me that this is what I need to do with my characters. Yes, having a character who is beautiful and funny and just all around amazing is cool. But what really brings that character to life are the little things, the little eccentricities and quirks that make that character different from all the others out there. I need to make my characters truly SEEN.

For me, these types of things aren't something I can sit down and plan out ahead of time. I know many writers who write out character descriptions in the planning stage of their novels. I just don't know my characters well enough until I've gone through at least a draft or two of the story.

But it's something I will keep in mind more as I write now. And I'll probably think of Kendra every time :)


  1. I love this post. And I think you're right about it being hard to plan ahead of time. I seem to be adding more of these kinds of details while revising, and it makes the characters much more 3D than just particular personality traits.

  2. Beautiful post. Got me teary-eyed. It is a shock to learn someone who was part of your formative years is now gone, and those specific quirky details are a much better way to remember them than the general (and sweet) comments about what a great person they were. That's definitely something to think about when writing a character. What will make them truly missable? Thanks for this post, Michelle.

  3. Great post and sorry for your loss.

  4. This is beautiful - and what a great way to keep Kendra's memory with you. I'm so sorry for your loss.

  5. First, I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. That's really hard.
    Second, I agree with everyone. A beautiful post. You got me thinking about my characters and whether I know them as richly.

  6. What a lovely tribute to your friend. Just those few sentences paint a picture of who she was to me, a complete stranger.

  7. Wonderful post, Michelle. It's strange how something so sad can inspire something so lovely, isn't it? I'm sorry for your loss. *hugs tight*

  8. I'm sorry for your loss, but I'm glad you have the list that brings your friend to life. I'm going to remember that and use it to help someone else when it's needed.

  9. Great post! You are right about the little details with our characters. The people in our lives have quirks and habits that endear them to us, our characters must have those too!


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