Living the characters

How does one, as an author, decide what a given character says or does?

For me, the answer is: I try to get inside the character’s skin.  What this means in practice is that I try to feel what the character is feeling at that particular moment, and I ask myself, ‘what is s/he thinking?’  While I don’t explicitly bring it to mind, I’m aware of the character’s background, his/her values, personality and ambitions.  This process is particularly necessary when a character is suddenly put in an unexpected or difficult position.

Fir example, in Efraim’s Eye, the principal character, Paul, is suddenly asked by Naomi, “Do you love me, Paul?”  By way of background, Paul and Naomi had become lovers two days previously.  She is a very pretty and sweet charity worker, a rootless, lonely, thirty-something.  Paul is a London-based widower in his fifties, a financial consultant who has a girlfriend his own age.  Naomi and Paul are not an obvious match, but Paul finds Naomi enchanting and Naomi sees Paul as a secure, reliable father figure, who, nonetheless, wakens her dormant sensuality.

The story continues:

 

Unprepared as he was for that question, Paul knew that there could be only one answer. “Yes, yes, of course I love you.”

Naomi’s head tilted, and her gaze fell to the table cloth. Uncertainly, she asked, “Why do you love me?”

Instinctively, Paul knew that his answer must not include the word ‘beautiful’ or one of its synonyms. He said, “You’re a very sweet idealist, Naomi. You are a woman with great talents as a linguist, as a musician, and in dealing with people. But for me, best of all, is your joie de vie. Life is a great, pleasing adventure for you, and it’s delightful to be with you.”

For some moments, Naomi gazed at him, apparently repeating his words in her mind. She asked, “So you think I’m a sweet, talented, adventurous woman?” She pronounced the word ‘woman’ awkwardly, as if it were a term unfamiliar to her.

He smiled. “For a four word summary, that will do.”

Paul knew the answer to the reciprocal question. She loved him as a daughter loves, and he had awakened her latent brilliance as a lover. But, for her part, she had wanted to know whether she, herself, was a person who could be loved.

 

Paul’s response, ‘Of course I love you’ leaves room for doubt about the depth of the feeling behind it, and in the days ahead, he begins to doubt the durability of the relationship.  His response to the question, ‘why do you love me, Paul?’ manages to avoid the artificiality of a ‘because you’re beautiful’ response.  He recognises that she has a hunger to be valued for more than her looks.  His answer, from his point of view, is both truthful and recognizes as strengths what she may have seen as weaknesses.

So this exchange between Paul and Naomi, while unexpected by the reader, helps to define these two characters, and begins to open a path to the future for each of them.

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