I sometimes co-run ‘pop-up’ writing events in Hall and Woodhouse Cafe, Bath with my writing friend and co-founder of Writing Events Bath, Alex Wilson. We run similar sessions in four week blocks at Bath Central Library. Last week we ran a pop-up session, focussed on developing characters. These sessions are designed to get participants writing. We devise exercises and people write for five or ten minutes then share in pairs and often read out their pieces to the whole group. It’s always amazing to see what can be produced in such a short time.
During the session, we were considering how characters change and develop as you write and how it is necessary to show several aspects of a character in order for them to be interesting. Obvious stuff, but staying with the obvious is always important. Who likes a nicey-nicey character anyway?
I used to be a Gestalt Psychotherapist and one of the theoretical concepts from Gestalt Therapy suggests that we do not have a fixed ‘self’. The self is fluid and changes according to the environment or situation. For example, if you are talking to your MP at a local surgery, you will be different from when you are talking to your best friend in the Boston Tea Party. A different aspect of your self is called for. With the MP situation, you might surprise yourself if you have never been to a surgery before. If your MP is Jacob Rees-Mogg, like mine, you could suddenly discover a barely contained rageful self (or character). We won’t go into the finer distinctions between definitions of self and character here but I think the Gestalt Psychotherapist, Irving Polster, did say that the character is ‘the one who wears the boots.’
So as a writer, if you are not sure how to deepen your character, put them in a different situation and a different part of them will emerge. (Or a different aspect of you, the writer, will emerge?). The different situation can involve another, or it can be a different environment.