Sunday, December 6, 2009

The Consistency of Inconsistency: What We Don’t Know About Ourselves Says Everything About Our Character

by Martha Engber

(The first of a three-part series published Dec. 6 – 11, 2009)

I once knew  a man who spent a dollar in gas and drove a half-hour out of his way to save fifty cents when filling up.

I knew another person who loved to backpack through steep mountains with forty pounds on his back, yet he hated walking around his town and hiking nearby trails.

Then there was the avid baker who habitually burned what she made.

In my novel, The Wind Thief, a petty thief from India doesn’t trust anyone with his beloved drums — tabla — yet he entrusts them to a strange young woman he meets in the Sahara Desert.

Humans, above all, are marvelously consistent in their inconsistencies and apparent hypocrisies. Yet these very quirks — eccentricities, idiotic inclinations, annoying habits — are clues to the underlying, often subconscious, rules people live by and that demonstrate their character and explain the actions they take. These oddities are, in essence, the keys to understanding what makes people tick.

I’ll be talking about the nature of human nature and how to capture a character’s character during Grow A Great Character, Grow A Great Plot! from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sat., Jan. 16, at Book Passage in Corte Madera. The workshop is based on my book for writers, Growing Great Characters From the Ground Up: A Thorough Primer for the Writers of Fiction and Nonfiction.

Until then, I’ll be answering readers’ and writers’ questions about fiction and nonfiction characters and the character development process this week via this blog.

Do you have a favorite literary character? If so, what makes that character stick out among the hundreds and thousands of characters you’ve read about over the years?

Are you writing a short story, memoir, screenplay? What aspects of character development escape you?

Leave your questions via this blog and I’ll answer your questions .

On Wednesday I’ll post the next segment of this discussion, Curiosity: The Best Tool for Getting What You Want.

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