The above quote from William Shakespeare’s Hamlet has two meanings for me. One that has to do with my writing journey and one that has to do with characterization, our theme for this month’s blog posts.
On October 30th of last year I decided that I would work on a completely new project for NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month for those who were clueless like me). I threw all my other ideas out the window and pursued something that I was interested in – ice hockey. More specifically, the world of professional ice hockey. Thus, the first meaning of being “true to myself”. I decided to write about something that was a passion for me.
Two days before writing was supposed to start, I scrambled to do research on my characters, setting, etc. I tried to do both throughout the first week, but the writing went faster than my research so I was filling in details about my characters as I went along. After that first week, I had the privilege of interviewing a woman in the NHL who has the same job as my protagonist. This led to my next dilemma.
What should I do when the plan I had for my character collided with the reality of my research? Do I tell myself that it is called “fiction” for a reason and who is going to know if my character would never behave that way or couldn’t possibly do that on the job? What is my obligation to my sources to be true to the things they shared about their profession?
As a writer, I was faced with these questions about how or if my research would affect my characterization. I had to answer for myself not only how would I feel when the people I had interviewed during the course of my research read my book and saw that I had distorted or discounted what they had told me, but how important was it to me to be realistic in my portrayal of a character in their profession. Would I be true to reality even though I am writing fiction or would I go for “creative license” and write what worked for my story? Not only that, but as a Christian, what do my answers say about my perspective on the truth and how does that reflect on my integrity?
The complete quote from Hamlet is as follows:
“This above all: to thine own self be true.
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.”
I decided to be true to my character. To make her as real as possible. As research revealed more about what choices my character would make in her profession, I used that information to make my character one who is believable to those who are familiar with that world. Even though only a handful of people might know if it was true or not. It matters to me.