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"Hard is not hopeless." - General David Petraeus

Friday, May 1, 2009

What's At The Core Of Your Character?

I just returned from visiting a loved one who suffered a stroke recently. This was the first time I’ve ever been around anyone who has had a stroke. It is a devastating, serious thing. I was initially scared to death about the possible outcome. But I am pleased to report, however, that my loved one has made good progress on the road to recovery.

I don’t know if the results of the stroke in this case were standard to most stroke patients, but one of the things I noticed is that who a person is at the core of their being comes out in the unawares rambling the patient makes as a result of the stroke. In this case, the patient has been a life-long care-giver, raising five children and taking care of their spouse and would ramble about things like “I’ve got a pot of beans on the stove” or “I need to go to the grocery store” and other related comments centered on the care they’ve always provided for others.

That got me to thinking. If that happened to me, what would be my ramblings? I can’t cook a lick so I doubt I’d be thinking about beans on the stove. And I only raise four leggeds. So in my case, I think I’d be rambling about one of two things: 1) I need to let the dog out or 2) I’ve got to go finish my manuscript. 8-)

More importantly, I think this question has application to fiction writers. Writers use many approaches to developing their characters. Some use lengthy character biographies or questionnaires. Some search books for personality profiles and build their characters from there.

But what if we stopped to ask ourselves: What if our character had a catastrophic medical event like a stroke? What would they ramble about? What’s at the core of that character’s being?

I think asking such a question would get right to the heart of their personality and essence. It is in our hardest trials we find out what we are made of. We and our fictional characters.

So as I rest up from my recent trip, I’m going to think about this question both for my own life and for my main protagonist. I think the results should prove revealing.

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