Jan 18, 2011

Foreign Natures

by Terri Wagner

Admin Note: Internet access has been spotty, but I think this should go out.

I often listen to a radio version of a Dr. James Dobson interview session on my long commute. The last two days he has interviewed his son and wife both were adopted. The wife's story was as opposite my own as it could get. In a nutshell, she was 3 years old when her biological family was split up. She was eventually adopted by her foster mother's daughter. When she hit puberty, emotions long dormant came welling up. She didn't want to upset her adopted parents, she didn't know anything about her "real" mom and then felt guilty for not seeing her adopted mom as her "real" mom. She took refuge in cutting and harming herself, unable to deal with such strong emotions or even understand why they suddenly appeared. Happily, things are better now. Her adopted husband knew something of his biological mom but felt where he was and who he was was in fact enough. There was some clinical curiosity but no real need to find out about this "mom." He did learn she was 16, unable to care for him and gave him up for adoption. Eventually, his wife pieced together some of her biological family history.

I myself have never considered harming myself (ok you could make a case about being overweight but let's not go there shall we?). And that in turn got me to thinking about characters we develop for our stories with natures foreign to our own experiences. The proverbial they say write what you know. But I can't know what that feels like. I could go on forever about how many times I have been literally stunned when a trigger phrase has prompted outlandish behavior only to discover the explanation was as foreign to me as the reaction.

Our new chapter president Laurie spent our last cyber ANWA meeting telling us of character bibles. Write your character's strengths, flaws, motivations, physical appearance and refer to it as your characters go through their story. How you write their growth or lack thereof must always confirm to the character you develop, i.e. Luke Skywalker, who was his father lead George Lucas to create Anakin’s story.

So how do we write about experiences foreign to us? Feelings and emotions we may never fully understand? The character bible…armed with the knowledge that I can still have a character with a nature foreign to mine without actually having to “accept” that nature.


  1. I like the term "character bible." For my first book, I wrote detailed character charts for just about anyone with a name! I didn't write new ones for the sequel, since I was using many of the same characters--and I was too lazy to write entries for new characters! I'm finding that it is a little more difficult to keep track of all the different traits for my new, uncharted characters. I'm going to have to go back and write them.

    Something I found essential to character charts, but easy to forget, is the growth each character makes throughout the story. They may be a very different person by the book's end than they were when it started.

  2. Thanks for sharing these thoughts, Teri. I have not written much fiction up to now, but all of a sudden a couple of story lines have come to my attention. I need to start gathering more of these ideas.

  3. Thanks for the thoughts Terri I need to find an easy way to organize this Character Bible.

  4. I think we're all just winging it. We don't know what people go through, but we're pretty creative, and we've all been through a lot of rough junk, so I think we can figure out a lot of it.

    Comparing trials is worthless anyway. It's impossible to really know what people are going through, but in writing, especially in creating unique characters, I think we can wing it and get away with a lot.



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