A writer faces the challenge of creating memorable, authentic characters every time she starts a new story or novel. Debates abound about how much physical description to include, from whose point of view, and the advantages of not including physical description which gives the reader’s imagination the task. Lynn Capehart, in her article for the October 2010 The Writer, “The importance of Inclusionary Writing,” reveals how some white writers inadvertently support racism by the way they describe non-white characters.
Capehart points out that white writers tend to label non-white characters, allowing the labels to serve as physical description by calling to mind a stereotype that goes with the label. In contrast, they describe white characters carefully and with nuance. What Capehart would like to see in all writing is the same kind of care and nuance used in describing all characters, white and non-white. “Whether characters are constructed with more or less detail should be a function of their worth and weight on the page, not race,” Capehart wrote. I agree, and this needs to be applied to all writers, not only white writers.
Unfortunately, racism continues to live in American society despite progress in civil rights, the fight for equality and acceptance over the last 50 years, and our current President. Women also continue to endure sexism in American society despite progress in their fight for equality and acceptance as individuals. Society influences the writers who live in it, so I think American writers need to be especially vigilant. Fictional characters need to be seen as individual human beings by readers, and it is the challenge of writers to create them as unique individuals.
In imagining the world of the summer of 2048 for Perceval, I originally saw a dystopian America as having reverted back to racist ways. The primary location of the novel is Vienna, Austria, which in my experience has always been an international city, cosmopolitan, but also with a history of anti-Semitism. I had thought that I’d created my characters with care and as unique individuals until I read Capehart’s article. Now I want to read through the novel and pay special attention to the way I describe or don’t describe my characters.
The point of view of a character reveals his character to the reader. Most of the novel is third person with a focus on Evan Quinn, the main character. Showing a character’s beliefs and attitudes should not necessarily be confused with what the writer believes. The trick is to see the character as an individual with his own beliefs and attitudes separate from the writer, and for the writer also to not impose his beliefs and attitudes on him. This is probably one of the most difficult aspects of character creation and takes time and many, many drafts to master. Evan has been influenced by American society from his birth in 2013 until the reader meets him in the novel. His parents influenced him, his friends, teachers, and the circumstances of his life influenced him. How he thinks and behaves reflects all these influences as well as his desires and needs and his life experiences. So, creating a character is not only the character’s physical appearance, but also his thinking, his actions, his experiences and knowledge.
Recently, a prologue for Perceval came to me unbidden and with such force and vivid completeness in my mind, I realized that my imagination was signaling me that we needed to do another rewrite of the novel. I plan to expand the title, add the prologue and then review each chapter with an eye to character creation and description, as well as location and time. My writing work and my reading the last three years has added to my knowledge and experience, which I can now use in my work on the Perceval series.….