Monday, February 20, 2012

Becoming a Student of Human Nature

This May, I have the opportunity to present a class on character development at the LDStorymakers Conference. The class will be called Culture, Motivation, Flaws, and a Cat: Four things every great character needs.

As I've worked on preparing for this class, I realized that I've always been curious about other people, and what makes them think and act and behave so very differently from each other.

This is not to say that I've always been able to understand everyone, however. In fact for most of my life I found it nearly impossible to understand what others were really thinking and feeling, especially since most people seemed to think so differently from me. This is probably why I spent so much time and effort trying to figure out why others act the way they do. And why I enjoy exploring the actions and motivations of the characters in my writing -- my "imaginary friends," if you will.

Now that I have a bit more experience at life, I find it is much easier to understand those around me. I recently read a quote by actress Thandie Newton that I think explains the reason perfectly. She said, "One of the special things about the creative world is that you can turn your discomfort into empathy. You explore the lives of other people and different modes of thinking, and that opens you up."

As writers, it is essential that we seek to understand and have empathy for the people around us, including (dare I say especially) those with whom we disagree. The ability to put ourselves in another's shoes, to understand their thoughts and feelings and motivations, is critical to us understanding and writing characters that will resonate and connect with our readers.

We all need to become students of human nature.


Michael Offutt, Tebow Cult Initiate said...

I agree. And what an honor it will be to present before so many people. I'm rooting for you :)

Betsy Schow said...

So true. If we can't look deeper into people and the reasons they do things, our characters motivations will be rather shallow and 2 dimensional.

Congrats on speaking!