“Good writing is remembering detail. Most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth.” ~ Paula Danziger
Have you ever reached a point in a book where you felt like crying and clutching it to your chest? Hey, maybe you have even done it. There is no shame in being brought to tears by a good story. I think it just means that the author has done their job. It means you have become connected to the people in the book.
I am continually learning how to evoke emotion more effectively in my writing. Other far more talented writers have helped me along the way. It can be very challenging to generate believable life experiences for fictional characters, but there are a few things that have been helpful to me.
When I was preparing to write Dunnigan, I had the opportunity to speak with people who lived during the 1920s. Many of the stories shared became part of the fabric of my characters. It does not mean that their memories made it into the story wholesale, nor is it to say that I simply adopted their memories as if they belonged to my characters. However, I paid attention to the things in their lives that caused them and ME to have an emotional response. What made them laugh? What made them cry? What angered them? I tried to draw on those memories to create the lives and experiences of my characters. As time passes and writers dive deeper into the annals of history, the options for person to person interviews will dwindle. With that said, another fantastic resource is personal letters. Sometimes people will grant you access to them, or they may be in memoir/book form. Letters are a wonderful way to transport yourself to the past.
Speaking of transporting to the past, that, I believe, is another critical element to creating authentic characters, especially in a historical period. The world is ever-changing. We sometimes lose sight of how things used to be even a decade ago. How much more so for an entire CENTURY? I found photographs and newspapers to be extremely helpful for giving me the needed window into the past. How did they dress? How did the streets and sidewalks look? What was in the weekly paper? Through research, we can see the world through the eyes of our potential characters.
To quote a favorite author of mine, “specificity is authenticity.” It does not mean bogging the reader down in minutia, but to create believable characters, one must dive deep and consider the little things. I believe that is how writers breathe life into the pages of a book. It is how we are left with tears in our eyes, hope in our spirits, and change in our hearts.