Reflections from Isaac Bashevis Singer, the great short-story writer,:
“Now, for a plot you need characters. So instead of inventing characters, I contemplate the people whom I have met in my life who could fit into this story. I sometimes combine two characters and from them make one. I may take a person whom I met in this country and put him in Poland or vice versa. But just the same, I must have a model.
“I don’t invent characters, because the Almighty has already invented millions and billions of them. Humanity may become a million years old and I’m sure that in all this time there will not be two people who are really alike.Experts at fingerprints do not create finger prints. They learn how to read them. In the same way the writer reads his characters.
“When people come together—let’s say they come to a little party or gathering—you always hear them discuss character. They will say, ‘This one’s a fool, this one is a miser.’ Gossip makes the conversation. It seems that the analysis of character is the highest human entertainment. And literature does it, unlike gossip, without mentioning specific names—so it is less malicious. We always love to discuss and reveal character because human character is to us the greatest puzzle. No matter how much you know a human being, you don’t know him enough.”
What pearls of wisdom for us all there are embedded here! How rich the source of all characters is when we tap into our own histories and recollections of people we’ve met or seen. And how wonderful to know that every character we create, just as we everyone we meet, is unique and that it’s our job to capture their individuality in our words. As we write, let’s remember that when we conjure up a character we are delving into the greatest of human mysteries. Write on!
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