I recently had my high school students do an activity where they had to list moments that mattered. This is an idea courtesy of Kelly Gallagher created to help people understand a little bit more of who they are, and to provide a topic which they can then develop into a longer writing piece. I modeled several key points in my own life:
- Becoming a big sister four times
- Almost quitting the piano
- Winning a local pageant
- Marrying my friend since age 7
- Becoming a mom three times
- Praise from mentor professor
- Moving to current house
- Joining a writers group
But, as tends to be the case more often than not in my life, I started thinking about how this could relate to writing. And, as I’m in the drafting/getting to know you phase of my current WIP, I got thinking about my characters. About what their moments that mattered might be.
For one of my lead males, it would be discovering/gaining interest in the stars, getting his PhD, marrying his wife, repeated loss, possible redemption.
For his wife, it would be developing a love for libraries, falling in love/marriage, the similar losses that her husband had and more, a glimmer of hope.
Yes, these are vague *avoiding spoilers* but the idea is that marking out the moments that matter will allow them to become the real and tangible people I need them to be.
Please note: we all have moments that have mattered to us but not everyone needs to know them. When I introduce myself to people, I don’t breakdown the progression of becoming the oldest of five kids, I don’t detail every element of my 30 year relationship with my husband, I don’t explain the various decisions that went into the decision to move to a different house.
Forcing ourselves to work through our character’s moments that matter is valuable, but that doesn’t mean every aspect of that characterization needs to show up in our novels. It doesn’t even need to be alluded to. It will, however, have an impact on who they are. It will determine when they try something or don’t. If they trust people naturally. If they stay in a comfortable box or explore crazy ideas, adventures, relationships.
And while you may be thinking about your main characters, about their moments that matter, don’t forget that we have side people in our lives who we rely on because of one thing or another that was probably determined by a moment that mattered in their life. Let the side characters be fully developed even if not fully seen, so that the role they play in your MC’s life make sense and is consistent.
Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and high school English teacher in Southern Utah. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a dash of magic. Her loves include Diet Coke, owls, chocolate and cinnamon bears. She is the managing editor for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association quarterly newsletter.