In The Creative Habit, Twyla Tharp suggests that hard work and discipline leads to creativity. But where do the two seemingly opposite disciplines interplay? What allows pragmatic, left-brained reasoning to synergize with freethinking, right-brained artistry?
One answer might be found in writing, and in the creation of characters.
Writing often begins with data collection. When writing, surface waters of inquiry spread far, gushing over ground that includes—for my recent manuscript—an understanding of issues that make up young adult life, the culture of football, the physicality and mentality of fighting, all in the backdrop of a particular type of town, school, and parental upbringing. This information is gleaned from books, newspapers, interviews, personal experience—research. But data collection is not enough.
At some point the writer must stop researching and drill deep. At this point—when the auger spins through the surface—the writer creates the unique internal topography of her character.
Let’s say you decide to include a football player in your story, like I have. Let’s say you attend a local game to do your research. You pick two jersey numbers on the sidelines to study. Both are getting ready to jog out, let’s say, on defense.
One player is pacing, his fists are clenched, his eyes look wild and unfocused. He’s muttering. If he’s my son, he’s foaming at the mouth (his recollection, not mine).
Next to this player stands his teammate, quiet and nearly still. His eyes are locked on the jerseys across the field—his opponent.
Two comparably talented players are on the same sideline in the same game playing for the same team…yet they are clearly different.
This is where the fun starts. Is this a first varsity game for one of these players? Is either player masking an injury? Who does the coach favor? What role does the father play in the young man’s life? Is the player uncertain of his ability? Or afraid of being hit?
In other words: What internal issues does the player bring to his game? What external forces are working on him? And how do these manifest themselves in his behavior?
By mining deep, and not stopping until you know exactly how your player is going to act and react to the events on the field—and how his actions and reactions are different his teammate’s—we go beyond static, single-dimension characters and snap our players to life on the page.
Tharp, Twyla, and Mark Reiter. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life: a Practical Guide. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.