POST CARDS FROM THE MUSE
The People – Part 2
By Nandy Ekle
If you’ve ever dealt with people—any amount of time at all, even just a moment—you know every single person in the world is made of many layers. Even newborn babies. I remember watching my babies, just a few hours old, sleeping and wondering what they were like.
Your characters must have layers just like real people do. If they don’t, they won’t be believable. They won’t connect with your reader. Your reader will close the book and say, “Who cares.” So inventing a character takes careful work.
You have the outside layer, the surface. This is what the world in your book sees—not necessarily what the character looks like (unless your story is about overcoming a physical condition). This is the part of your character, your person, that starts the story.
The next layer is something that maybe is not so evident right away.
Here’s an example. One of my favorite books is The Shining, and the layering is exactly why. When the story begins, we see a man in a job interview. The interviewer is talking away with Jack, explaining the job, and explaining that he knows about Jack’s past problems. The very first line of the book shows us Jack’s attitude toward his prospective employer—he’s arrogant. He’s angry that the problems of the past are drug out into the open when he thought he slayed them. And he’s angry that this prissy little man talks to him as if he is intellectually challenged. So immediately we empathize with Jack. We all know what these things feel like.
But we find out later, only a few pages into the story, that the anger and the arrogance are only shields he has built as defense mechanisms. His inner layers are far more complex and far darker than we have any idea about.
And we can identify with that as well.
Next week we’ll talk about the deep stuff.
Homework: Describe in the comments below how your favorite character appears to his/her world. Then describe the first sign that reveals a deeper layer, and what that layer is.