I hope that you all had a wonderful Fourth of July. I spent mine in my Fire Island share house with friends. On July 4, we sat on the third-floor rooftop and watched the fireworks in each town along the coast of southern Long Island. It was spectacular.
At dinner later, all nine of us sang happy birthday to America. Some of us sang happy birthday to “us,” some to “you,” and some to “America.” I found that interesting because how each of us defines our relationship with our country is certainly topical. It made me wonder how the characters in my newest project felt about their heritage and what the word independence meant for them? I got excited: Here was a new way to reveal character. I believe that any opportunity to have an insight into your characters is well worth a few minutes of writing.
To use the question as a writing tool, you would give yourself 10 to 15 minutes to explore your character’s opinions. For example, what is their country of origin, how would they celebrate Independence Day, and what does “independence” mean to them? Okay, that’s three questions.
Here’s how to do the exercise:
1. Set a timer for five minutes.
2. Write a paragraph that simply explains how you feel about who you are and how you feel about independence in a cultural and historical sense.
Here’s a sample paragraph:
For me, the words independence and freedom are the same. Freedom means that you choose how you live each minute of your life.
I am a third-generation Jew originally from Romania. I do identify myself as American but also as a Jew. Being Jewish is both a religion and a race. I never noticed until now that my Romanian heritage doesn’t mean much to me.
3. Reset your timer for five minutes.
4. Write as if you are your main character in the present tense.
5. By writing in the present tense in the first person, you will be able to hear your characters talk about themselves, discussing a subject that has become increasingly intimate.
6. Repeat the exercise for the obstacle or villain.
When you reread what you wrote, you’ll have discovered useful information that can enhance your story. For example, now that I know that if I were to imagine myself as a character, I most certainly could create a situation where the character must explore their ignored Romanian history to resolve the story. A single clue like this can lead to a deepening plot, developing character, and creating subtext.
Here’s to your successful writing,
Professor Marilyn Horowitz