One of the most interesting sessions that I went to at the Festival of Faith and Writing was called Taking Risks and Cultivating Compassion Through Fiction Writing. Stephanie Kallos is an actress and author whose second book, Sing Them Home was chosen by Entertainment Weekly as one of the best books of 2009. But her first book is the one that caught my attention...
Some of you may remember that I had title troubles with my third book, The Moment Between. I wanted to call the book Broken for You, but someone had already used that title. Grrr. It's true, I harbored a little bitterness toward this unknown author. But when I met her after her fascinating session at the FFW, I just had to go out and buy her book! Stephanie Kallos has written a masterpiece in Broken for You. And she's a wonderful lady, too. Who knew I'd get to shake the hand of the very woman I resented for "stealing" my perfect title?
Anyway, Ms. Kallos session drew heavily on her acting background to draw out nuance and depth in crafting character. There are several gems I gathered from this presentation. Since they're pretty self-explanatory, I'm just going to list some of her tidbits of wisdom.
- In a character's life, there is no entrance or exit. Therefore, you (as an author) have to choose what to frame and what to leave out of the story. As you write, never forget that the life of your character began before you picked up the story, and will continue long after the last page.
- You must find common ground with your character, even if you don't agree with his or her choices. You cannot stand outside the story and judge them--you have to "walk a mile in their shoes" and learn to empathize with whatever they are going through. Where the commonality stops (between you and your character), you need to start asking yourself, "What if?" This is where writing begins.
- Remember that there is a life-affirming reason for every character you create--even if it is small or hard to identify. If not, why create the character at all?
- Before you can get to know your character (before you can ask that all-important question (What if?), you have to know who you are.
Of course, many of the things that Ms. Kallos said are not new. I've heard all this before... But there was something so fresh in the way she presented it, that I found myself looking at my characters through totally new eyes. I'm excited to apply some of her wisdom to my next book--already I've discovered things about my main character that are stretching me as an author and as a person.
Your Turn: Do any of Ms. Kallos suggestions ring true to you? Is any of her advice new or unexpected? I'd love to hear what you think about her approach to crafting character!