Yesterday, I had an epiphany about freewriting and character development. I was revising a scene in a story I’m working on. I knew what happened in the scene, but I wasn’t sure what the narrator’s concerns would be. What would he be thinking about from the previous scene? What would he be worried about? What would he want to know? What would he obsess over? So I freewrote about it. I do that often (in creative and academic writing). And, yes, ideas began to emerge. I started seeing how my character would think. And then it dawned on me.
This is the revelation: When something happens in my life, I will perseverate over it, worry every possibility, invent hypothetical scenarios, replay experiences, and even invent new ones—with dialogue! And I might do this all as I’m trying to go to bed or while I’m driving in the car or while I’m staring at the cat. In other words, real people spend a lot of time thinking about their lives. They lodge their worries deep within their psyches, and what they do with those worries, the myriad of connections they make—from people, to ideas, to memories, to hopes—are thought out and complex. We give the important things in our lives our precious time. And my revelation was that if I want to get into my characters’ heads, I need to spend more time with them—and freewriting is the way to do it.
It’s one thing to walk a character through a door, have him interact with others, cry, yell, whatever; but it’s another thing to know what he’s thinking every second and understanding all the connections he’s making in his head. If we take the time to freewrite and understand our charcters’ obsessions, worries, and dreams, imagine how rich and convincing our stories will be.
Of course, Peter Elbow’s Writing Without Teachers is the bible of freewriting. If you’d like read what Peter Elbow wrote, follow this link to “Freewriting.”