Consider this excerpt from Robert Boswell’s essay “The Half-Known World” in his book The Half-Known World: On Writing Fiction. Boswell says “There can be no discovery in a world where everything is known. A crucial part of the writing endeavor is the practice of remaining in the dark” (23-24). He argues that discovery is important for keeping readers and writers engaged.
If I were to write a how-to primer for the creation of characters, I would put together a different set of question than those typically posed. It might go something like this:
- What did your character forget to do this morning?
- Why does your character think he ought to be fired?
- What recent mistake vaguely reminds your character of a previous mistake she can’t name?
- What stupid thing kept her awake last night?
- If you met your character in a bar, what would she think of you? In what ways would she be right? What would she get wrong? What would she see about you that you don’t yet understand about yourself?
These questions won’t explain anything or anybody, but they may give you a handle by which you can pull yourself into this character’s life. You do not know what the character wants, but you may have enough that you can begin exploring the character in a narrative, and you may eventually discover it. (23)