Friday, March 23, 2012
by Delores Topliff
Like Harriet Beecher Stowe's character Topsy, sometimes our characters "just growed."
After moving 1800 miles from western Canada to Minnesota, I wanted to write more. My first step? Taking a children's literature course to gear down my college-teacher brain for less-complicated storytelling.
One assignment required developing a character sketch, but who to focus on? I recalled a foster girl entering my 6th grade class one November, who then disappeared during Spring Break. That tall girl, who was my size, started punching me in the restroom one day without provocation. (Nobody won.) Years later, I realized her blows were an effort to communicate. I wished I could find her and befriend her.
I searched for her without results. She may have married. Or, like other classmates, passed away far too young. But I couldn't get Mildred out of my mind. My "what ifs" wondering about her soon prompted me to write a character sketch based on her.
What I knew of Mildred soon blended with my own life experiences and those of young people I've know and taught through the years. Possibilities, imagination, unique character traits -- all combined to grow into someone I knew and mostly liked. She was still recognizably Mildred -- but with added elements of many other girls, as well. The more she came to life, the more I learned from her. In the process, I found I love creating characters and hearing their stories. Love walking their journeys with them as they avoid narrow escapes -- or not -- and regain balance, celebrating victories with wisdom learned that enriches us all.
Pearls grow when small irritations invade oysters but get covered over with protective nacre coatings to make them smooth, comfortable and lustrous. Similarly, our characters often begin with niggling, irritating questions which, under many subsequent protective coatings of our imagination, become something lustrous, valuable -- and worth keeping.
I don't know Mildred's remaining life story. She does have permanence and honor in my mind and writing.
What seed character is niggling your imagination today? What is he/she saying to you now, craving expression? Faithfully record each new story waiting to be born.