Those Pesky People

We are going to start these writing classes with the study of people, more commonly known as characterization. Why start here? Every story has characters, typically a main character and then supporting characters. Without characters, we don't have stories. Think about the stories you've read in the past. Think about the people in those stories. The characters that come most readily to my mind are Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Hannibal Lecter in Silence of the Lambs, and Captain Ahab in Moby Dick. These characters are all so different, yet memorable. We remember them because we get to know them. They intrigue us. They interest us. They fascinate us in one way or another.

Just like the characters in a book, we know characters in real life. There are people who have crossed our paths maybe just once or twice, yet years later at the strangest time they cross our minds. We can remember the things they said, the cock of their head when they said it, the way they walked, the clothes they wore, and the way they parted their hair. Then there are those people who we have had in our lives for years, the ones we see everyday, the ones we identify with, the ones whose character and personality we know. How many times when you hear a story about one of these "characters", your first reaction is, "that sounds just like him."

It is because of characterization that writers study people. It's the reason why writers ask questions of other people, try to get to know them better. It's the reason why writers sit on park benches or in malls and watch people. They are studying them, trying to learn more about them and what makes them tick. That's what we're going to start doing this week.

As a writer, you have to know people. When you choose a character for your story, you have to know what makes him do the things he does, why he would do one thing and maybe not another. You have to know him backwards, forwards, up and down. You have to get in his skin, know what he would do in any given circumstance and why he would do it. You don't want your characters doing anything "out-of-character".

But before we get to our imaginary characters, we're going to deal with some real life characters.

I hope you have your spiral notebooks ready. We are going to be using those and they are going to be our lifelines as we work through this series of exercises. So, if you're ready, let's get started.

For the next week, I want you to make a list of all the people you know, past and present. They can be friends, relatives, coworkers, classmates, adults, children, acquaintances, or neighbors. The only rules are, you must know their names and you must have spoken to them a handful of times.

You will probably start off with a great list and then your thoughts and memories will slow down. Keep your notebook handy because when you least expect it, someone new, maybe someone you haven't spoken to or seen in years will suddenly pop into your mind. That person will probably lead you to an entirely new section of people to add to your list. That's fine. Just keep adding them.

Don't be rigid with yourself. Just relax and start with the people in your immediate circle. There is no magic number. For now, you are just making a list. Keep this list in your notebook. We will be adding to and working with this list in the coming weeks.

Email me if you have questions. I am always available at



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