By Ashley Lister
My name is Ashley Lister and, aside from being a regular columnist and reviewer at ERWA, I’m also a freelance writer and a creative writing lecturer. I’m reminding you of this because so many interesting contributors have appeared in this space since I last blogged here I can understand if you’ve forgotten me.
As I mentioned last month, I’m using this space to share some of my favourite writing exercises.
This month’s exercise deals with characters.
Have you ever met a person that you thought you would like – only to discover they were completely unlikable? Conversely, have you ever met a person you expected to despise – only to discover they were surprisingly charming?
This happens all the time in the real world.
However, it’s only in fiction – and really, only in badly written fiction – where we encounter characters that are written in shades of unmistakable black or white and absolute flavours of good or bad.
As writers creating characters, if we want them to be believable representations of real people, we have to keep in mind that real people are multifaceted individuals who are never wholly good or wholly evil.
We also have to remember, whilst some characters and their characteristics will remain consistent, their traits will appear to change depending on who is looking at them.
To illustrate this point, I recently read out rude a poem to a large audience. The audience members that laughed and applauded clearly thought I was risqué and funny and deserved to be on the stage in front of them. The audience members that walked out and complained clearly thought I was vulgar and humourless.
I was the same person at the microphone. But I was a vastly different person to each of those responding in such diverse ways.
Here’s the exercise:
Write about yourself from the perspective of someone who likes you. Write for about half a page on this first part of the exercise. Now fill out the other half of the page writing about yourself from the perspective of someone who doesn’t like you.
Hopefully there should be a contrast in perceptions here. Ambition and greed are often different sides of the same coin. It’s admired to be relaxed but few people approve of someone being lazy – yet the two adjectives can be used interchangeably depending on whether we like or loathe a person. A beloved bargain-hunter can easily be regarded as a despised tightwad.
This exercise is not only useful for self-examination. You can use it to better understand how your characters are perceived by other characters in the fictional world you’re creating.
Your fashion-conscious protagonist could be seen as a vacuous clothes-horse by her detractors. A sexually adventurous hero could be seen as an immoral man-slut.
Take a shot at this exercise and feel free to share your favourite contrasts via the comments box below. It would be interesting to see how readers of this blog believe themselves and their characters to be perceived.