I had two opportunities this past week to listen to people that make a living from their writing talk about their craft and how they got to where they are today. The first was playwright Colleen Murphy (www.colleenmurphy.ca) who was in Sudbury to attend the Play Smelter Workshop May 6th to 10th (http://www.patthedog.org/2014/05/07/playsmelter/) and the second was author Chuck Wendig (www.terribleminds.com) at a writing workshop (May 10th) in Toronto.
Despite the fact that both work in very different mediums, both are storytellers and both had some very interesting things to say about characters.
Colleen started off by talking about her background as a young actor in theatre and how she was always frustrated with the characters she played on stage. She said she quickly tired of being an actor and wanted to be a playwright. She wanted to create the characters whose story was being played out on stage. She talked about where her characters come from, how they are shaped and how they shape the direction of her plays.
Chuck during the course of the day long workshop talked about how its the characters that drive the plot and not the other way around. Chuck talked about how the characters are the architects of the story and that as they move through the story they change its shape and often “find new doors” where you didn’t realize there were doors.
It’s not exactly an earth-shattering revelation, but for me it was one of those a-ha moments where I realized I had been looking at a lot of my writing through the wrong lens. I feel like I have been spending too much time considering how my characters react to the plot without giving it enough though about their own agency and how their limitations and strengths shape the story itself. The revelation also helped me think about outlines differently in the sense that in the past I would spend most of my time outlining the “plot”. I never devoted enough thought or time to outlining the characters and their push and pull on the plot.
I am not sure if this makes more sense in my head than it does as I type this in my blog. Perhaps it’s the brain fog from a 5 hour road-trip back from Toronto that is not allowing me to be as articulate as I want in this moment. Regardless, both writers were great to listen to and learn from and I am glad I took the opportunity to attend both their presentations. Thanks to both Colleen and Chuck for passing on their wisdom and I hope I can run with it and apply it in my own work.