I thought I knew him pretty well. We’d spent quite a bit of time together the past few years. He was good looking, quiet, confident in some ways, but unsure of his ability to do anything more than put tops on bottoms at the local factory. The problem was he didn’t want to follow in his dad’s footsteps and spend the rest of his life there. He wanted more.
His voice needed work though. So I went back and read through his dialogue. That’s when it struck me. He was flat. He had no voice. Nothing distinctive. I’d spent years writing him, but I didn’t know him at all. And the revisions I’d promised to my agent were due in a week. I did what any writer would do. Panic.
I took a deep breath, got a heavy-duty dose of caffeine (another thing any writer would do), and pondered this guy who just so happened to be the second most important character in the story. And I pondered, and imagined. Nothing…
Then I recalled my new writing mantra:
‘All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.’
I got out my handy-dandy notebook because writing longhand can really spur the creative juices, and I let him talk to me, in first person (not Hemingway, the character). Wow, he was deeper than I imagined. And funnier.
I went over the story to polish up his dialogue—make it more him. There wasn’t much to go through because he hadn’t said much. His presence had been more of a shadow than the dynamic force it should have been. And damn, he was such an interesting guy now that I’d gotten to know him, he deserved a lot more of the word count.
So I started from the beginning and gave him some of the spotlight that he deserved. And the story is all the better for it.