When you write your story, you are deliberating choosing to become the story’s main character, the hero, the person whose thoughts and feelings need to be tracked beat by beat. This means you need to consciously develop yourself into a character the reader can relate to you.
This isn’t as easy as it may sound. Since we don’t walk around narrating our lives it can be tough to see what aspects of our life and personality would be interesting to the reader or relevant to our story.
Author Phillip Lopate, an extraordinary first-person storyteller, provides the following advice for turning yourself into a character.
- First, you need to acquire some distance from yourself. You need to be able to see yourself from the ceiling; to know, for instance, how you come across in social situations, and to assess accurately when your are charming, pushy, mousy or ridiculous. Try this freewrite: People frequently tell me I’m…
- You must understand your quirks—the idiosyncrasies, stubborn tics, antisocial mannerisms, and so on that set the narrator apart from the majority. (Do you wear mismatched socks on purpose? Do you swallow seven times every time you drink from a water fountain? Are you a grown woman who wears little boys’ underware?) Try this freewrite: “I’m the kind of person who….”
- Mining quirks is only the beginning. The effective first-person narrator also understands how such things as ethnicity, gender, religion and social class have shaped her character. Try this: List your ethnicity, gender, religion, political affiliation, social class, prominent physical characteristics, sexual orientation and where you grew up. Then, ask yourself: Which one or two or three of these characteristics have most influenced my behavior?
- As an I narrator, you must be able to dramatize yourself and your actions. One way to create drama is to highlight those aspects of your personality that lead to the most intense contradictions, ambivalence or emotion. Try this freewrite: I tend to be very emotional about…