At a youth conference a couple of years ago, I attended a class entitled, “Learning about our ancestors helps us know ourselves better.” It occurred to me recently that most writers know their characters better than their ancestors. We spend hours building our characters, imagining their physical traits and mental state, failures and triumphs, and their memories and opinions until they come to life in our heads and on paper.
As writers, if we know our characters better than our ancestors, perhaps we are missing an opportunity to know ourselves better.
So, my Writer’s Challenge for this month is this: Choose an ancestor and find out everything you can about her. Do a little research to discover what her life might have been like. Then, assuming that you and your ancestor have some character traits in common, fill in some of the missing pieces with aspects of your personality. Then use the character profile that you just created and find a story— a home in your writing—for that character. That home doesn’t have to be in your ancestor’s time period or even her setting.
As you write her story, you will naturally discover more about your character, your ancestor, and perhaps even about yourself.