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TITLE: Character Development
By Sydney Avey
12/26/10
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This commentary on the writing process was influenced by an admittedly controversial writer, Karen Armstrong, who was taken to task by the Wall Street Journal just this week. Although she and I have vastly different world views, I admire her intellectual curiosity.
Writing is at once a religious and a spiritual experience: religious in the sense that its practice is pursued with zeal and conscientious devotion; spiritual in the sense that the process involves intangibles that affect the soul.

As I introduce and develop characters for a novel, I find a parallel to what Karen Armstrong speaks of in her book, The Spiral Staircase, My Climb Out of Darkness. For those who are unfamiliar with the author of A History of God, she failed to find faith in a convent but discovered God in her study of world religions. Some of her observations in the final chapter of Staircase can be applied to writing.

“...editing out ego is — I now realize — an essential prerequisite for religious experience.”
And...
“We are most creative and sense other possibilities that transcend our ordinary experience when we leave ourselves behind.”

Bringing characters out of darkness is indeed a spiritual experience. I have to leave myself at the door when I enter the places they inhabit. But the ability to sense those possibilities also requires that I leave personal bias at the door.

Armstrong holds that if your motivation is to validate your own tradition and denigrate all other points of view, you are interjecting self and egoism into your study. It will not speak to you. Though she is referring to the ability of a scripture or a poem to speak to a reader, she may as well be describing the terms under which a character will develop and grow and tell his story to the writer.

When I study my characters and allow them to reveal what happens next, they do so with integrity, far more than what I would have written for him. That’s the nature of trust and the beauty of truth.
The opinions expressed by authors may not necessarily reflect the opinion of FaithWriters.com.
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