September 1, 2013


While I was on vacation in the Smoky Mountains this summer, I met an unusual lady. We sipped on soft drinks as our families zip-lined through the hills.  In a conversation which lasted over an hour, we learned about our hometowns, family histories, and likes and dislikes.  We discovered that we enjoyed doing the daily word jumble, we both knew brothers named Kenneth and Edward (friends of my family and her son's names), and both of us had a scare with cancer (her's far more serious than mine).

That afternoon, she shared a deep secret.  She revealed that she had lost one of her sons in a tragic car accident.  But the strange thing was, even though she grieved for him, she never shed a tear.  Her revelation surprised me and this sad moment touched the writer in me.  It made me wonder what behaviors we expect of others in a given situation.  What other occasions do people act in unexpected ways? Our chance meeting taught me that character is more complex than what meets the eye.  

If you want to create complex characters, then one thing you can try is to allow your characters to act in unexpected ways.  You can polish this skill by talking to others. Strike up a conversation while you wait in a grocery check-out line or at a doctor's office. Get to know others at sporting events or at after school activities. Listen well.  You'll see things from another’s point of view.  You'll learn how other people handle tough situations.  Later, you may find yourself weaving bits and pieces from these real conversations into a character for a story. 

My Smoky mountain acquaintance lives far north, many miles from me, but I am thankful that we were able to connect and share.  She had surely made an impact on my life, both personally and professionally.  She's made me think harder about developing richer, more complex characters. Though chances are unlikely that we’ll meet again, I will think of her often, knowing that we are both enjoying and unscrambling the daily word jumble.  

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