Character and Identity



Writers are all different, and they have a lot of different ways of describing/manifesting how characters in their work come into being.

Some of us are analytical: we use character sheets, balancing the strengths and weaknesses, outlining and pinpointing traits that we then use to (hopefully) further their plots. We “map” things. We rely on graphs and probabilities and numerical data. We know in advance that if “X” happens, the character(s) will do “Y” because “that’s who they are”.

Some of us are more “fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants” – we might create a basic character (he’s a roguish-type, but with aristocratic table manners/she’s pretty but with low self-esteem) and then – when a situation comes up – revisit those basic outlines, to add habits or quirks or secret talents, that further the plot or thematic stuff as we get deeper into things.

And some of us “claim” that we let the character tell us who they are, and then we just roll with that. (This is probably more of a metaphor, because really, it is our own brain, right?)

I’m definitely one of the last group: I write mostly in 1st-person singular, and it is (almost literally) the character telling me (and the reader, presumably) what happened, from their perspective, and why.

Because they know who they are. This is writing as exploration.


All this actually gives you a lot of insight into what kind of person the writer is.

The first group: well, I don’t want to cast aspersions, and there is nothing wrong with this approach, but I do think of them as the “authoritarian” writers: they believe that the facts they create in their heads really are facts. They believe in the binary. They believe that people/characters can be understood and charted.

And that’s a very human way to view the world, in reality as well as fiction.

The second group is fairly flexible: they think that people are variable, that people can change to a certain extent, and they allow for the possibility of those changes within their own stories. This is most of us, I think: we like the idea of possibility, although we are a bit less comfortable with the outcomes of that reality.

The third group feels more “reactive” – we grasp that we probably don’t know what other people think and feel unless they tell us, and we tend to trust, to a certain extent, the words people give us. If you (any “you”, including, obviously, the fictional “you”) say to me that at forty-five, you realized that your entire life has been a reaction against what your parent or guardian believed about you when you were five, but now you are free of that burden – I believe you.

If fictional character/real person tells me they are male, despite not having the external or physical characteristics of a “man”, I will believe them…and act/write accordingly.

If fictional character/real person tells me that they were a different person before someone they trusted completely betrayed them at the most intimate level – I will believe them, and operate or write the story to reflect that.

If a fictional character/real person tells me that oppression in their life occurred because of an accident of birth, even though I have never experienced that in my own life – I will believe them, and seek ways to illustrate that in language.

Gloriously, identity in fiction is up for grabs. My characters may believe they know who they are, what they are, and how they feel about those things, but as they move through their world, they can and often do discover deeper and more resonant aspects of their own condition – all of which are, quite obviously, generated from my own psyche.

But the fluidity that exists in me is real, and my ability to enter into the experiences and lives of others is part of my writing process.

And this must go double for real life.

You might have noticed that I draw the connection between fiction and life a lot on this blog.

Maybe you don’t think that’s pertinent, considering that I write fiction, and *fantasy fiction*, to boot, but I assure you, it is.

The truth about human beings lies not only in the hard reality of science, but in how we imagine worlds.

The truth in our minds is the truth in our bones. It is reactive truth in all three of the approaches I have outlined, but these are truths that are *reflective* truths, as well: they show our selves to ourselves, at our most internally basic.

Everything we write is a manifestation of our truer human-ness, and how we are in the world. And how we approach this communicative craft is the evidence of that reflection.

Brillat-Savarin said “Show me what you eat, and I will show you what you are.”

I say: “Show me how you write, and I will show you who you are.”


3 thoughts on “Character and Identity

  1. What great correlations between how we write and who we are. And also how we should try to push our own view or way on others much less than we do.
    And, of course, all fiction, including and maybe especially Fantasy Fiction, shows the human experience.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Character and Identity | Diane Morrison

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