Choosing Character Choices: Remembering How Different We Are

Aristotle called it “the imitation of human beings in action.”   Working on my latest project, a new play with the working title, Lost Cause, I’m again learning the old saw that the only way to learn to write is to write.  The writing teaches you if you just show up.

Just now, the characters in my play are teaching me, big time.

Sure…we’re all different.  We get that hammered into our heads daily.   But we also resist that, thinking, “Surely people see this the way I do.”   Truth is, a lot of people don’t.  Working on Lost Cause, the moment-to-moment work is slowing to a crawl, each moment pivoting constantly, deliberately, these five characters determined to see, receive, interact, and desire through their own explicitly different lenses.  My temptation is to skim this water too lightly, through a rapidly flowing intuitive process, but previous results convince me that too often I end up with multiple characters who each feel a bit too much like me.  What does this particular man want in this moment, and what choices is he having to make?   What does he sense, intuit, think, and feel when he hears the words coming at him?  Where does it land in the lightning fast life of the character’s mind?   Hold that thought, pivot now to the woman he’s in action with, not to look at her, but to get inside her mind, to see through her eyes, and she sees everything differently.

Here’s the kicker: every moment opens a window on multiple choices demanded of each character.   Over and over again, these choices present themselves  (not just two forks in the road, but a dozen or more at least) and characters have to choose.   As writers, so do we.

Don’t you wish we could sit all our characters down over coffee and hear them talk about how they go about making choices?

Actually, we can. We must…

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