Character Development

No doubt in any work of fiction beside the plot and the setting, the characters are most important. What would a story be without characters to care for, identify with or challenge us for some reason. In any writing course, workshop or at writers’ conferences you learn about character development, meaning you invent your main character – the protagonist, – but also their nemesis or antagonist, and all the other secondary characters you could ever need. You flesh them out: give them names and a physical appearances, decide on the age and ethnic  background, give them certain behaviours and follies, likes and dislikes, families, friends, pets, books, you name it. You are their creator. You invent them so perfectly, that you know about their most secret dreams and their phobias although you will never need to know that for the actual story. The secret is to not only do that for your main character, but for every single character in your story no matter how small a role they play. Well, maybe not for the guy who passes you in traffic you noticed only for his cool car… But everyone else. Yes. That’s a lot of work. Especially when down the road you decide to cut this character out because she doesn’t move the story forward and even though you were so much in love with her, she has no real purpose in your story…

I imagine this is pretty much what our Creator does with (the story of) us …

So you fleshed out all your characters, give them a role to play, lines to say, things to act on, respond to, grow at, cheer about, age on …  whatever you want. And then comes the point when you get stuck in your story… because you don’t know what your character is going to do next. He has developed a life of his own. He can surprise you, do things you never thought he would do. Honestly, even though you are his and her and its creator, you had not a clue he would say that eventually. So you have to be quiet at times and ask him, what would you like to do next? Why did you act like that? Because all of a sudden the story you plotted so perfectly changes with just one sentence. Well, yes. You could delete this sentence. Pretend he never said that and his friend or this girl or his dog didn’t respond like they did. You are their creator after all… But it’s kind of intriguing to listen to them. Watch how they get a life of their own. Come up with lines so brilliant you never thought of it. It’s fun…

I imagine this is how our Creator responds to us… 

So all of a sudden you have to come up with Plan B because A is not working anymore, because of this fight the characters had and you tolerated it and now they go separate ways and you have to give them new playmates or colleagues or partners or pets or travel companions or whatever your story is about. Perhaps your story gets much better… Or, because you are their creator, you listen to them for sometime and then you say, NO! That is NOT what I intended for you. Either I delete everything you did and said, because really, I can do that, or you are willing to apologize, and reach out and come back together so that MY story can finally happen. Is that understood?

  I imagine this is how our Creator gives us second chances, but often we don’t take them. And usually He doesn’t make us obey him, but grants us free will. Therefore he created the alphabet in all languages to come up with Plan B,C,D,E,F,… you get the picture…

Well, I know the drill in writing. I admit I all too often listen to my characters and come up with different plans and again I don’t submit to the editor and another month is passing because I rewrite instead because I do respect other people even though some of them are only invented …

Aren’t we all…?

And if writing wasn’t challenging enough, I do the same for illustrating. Well, now I do – I should add… because previously I only illustrated what I needed for a certain scene, but never bothered to flesh out my characters. I never knew that the owl that likes to serenade, also holds a grudge deep down and the cat who likes adventures, easily gets scared… How does that fit together? I don’t know. It is what it is, unless I change the characters… or their attitudes… or their sensibility… But I can only do that when I get to know them inside and out. I like them to surprise me with their inner life, ideas and emotions. And if I can’t stand them that way anymore… well, then I can change them, delete what they said… or erase them altogether. I’m their creator after all!

ANTJE_MO_CHARACTER_STUDY_ICB1_WK3.jpg

 

Inspiration is Everywhere

In my drawing classes the first thing I try to teach my students is that inspiration and motives are nothing we have to search for, they are everywhere. Don’t look too far, don’t look for big, when the things in front of you can be all you ever wanted. I had an art professor who only painted swans for half a year, because this is what she saw when she looked out of her apartment window. Other artists I know paint beautiful still lives arranging their everyday tools like scissors, pens and paint tubes. Ever painted your food? – You might annoy your company, but it’s worth trying when you eat alone…

I painted animals for years. I still do! Do you want to know why? – Because I love animals, but also because this is the view from my studio window:

IMG_2187

IMG_2169

IMG_2139

Well, you could argue I only have animals so that I can paint them 🙂 … however, this is what the results might look like, depending on the view:

Donatella-mit-Kalb

or my exploration mood…

IMG_1564.jpg

What inspires you? Where do you find your motives?