Writing Characters’ Secrets


Mamika: Super Hero by Sacha Goldberger

Great picture, huh?

But it’s the story that takes you one step deeper in meaning….

When a 91-year-old, Hungarian-born grandmother was feeling lonely and depressed, her grandson, French photographer, Sacha Goldberger,  suggested they take some fun photos.

I suggest you click on My Modern Met, to enjoy the full scope of  the project.

But Before you do…

You should know the rest of the story. This grandmother saved 10 people during WWII, hiding Jewish people and moving them to different places every day.  She survived Nazism, and was finally forced to move from her homeland (by a Communist regime) or face death.

Maybe you went back and looked at her again. Looked at the face that has earned her wrinkles under the facepaint.  That has endured so much life and loss it’s hard to make sense of the whole “journey.”

And that’s also how it works with our characters in our writing.  We can describe a character ( just like you can take a picture).  But when we show the why and how of their story, the character becomes real.  Readers curse the rude clerk who is impatient with a story’s beloved old lady.   They sigh about the loneliness and separation that accompanies the “Golden Years.”

We write about characters, not ideas or events.  Need more convincing?

The pictures have gone viral and Mamika now has 2,200 friends on Myspace.  Initially she was confused by the the fuss. People would post “You’re wonderful,” or “I miss my Grandma.  Would you adopt me?”  She’s now come to accept that the pictures and her story  convey hope and joy.

Silly? No.  It’s also the core of writing.  When we write of characters who share their vulnerable truths,  meaning bubbles out of it for the reader.

Like Mamika, we find we’re never to old, silly, or tired to inspire someone.

About Barb

I escaped from a hardscrabble farm in Oklahoma. I'm not sure why people think I have an accent. I miss the sunshine, but not the fried foods.
This entry was posted in A Laugh, Appreciation, Choices, Hope, Life, Smiles, Worries, writer, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Writing Characters’ Secrets

  1. momaescriva says:

    You are so write(pun intended) Many of my characters are composites of me as well as people I know.


  2. Kathie says:

    Now I want to go be her friend on FB! What a great story – a heroic woman and her talented grandson who found a way to bring her back into the world.


  3. alicer1 says:

    Love the story about Mamika. Now I know who I want to be when I grow up!


  4. Lisa Nowak says:

    So true, Barb. And so it goes back to “show, don’t tell.” 🙂


    • Barb says:

      That’s the general idea, Lisa. I wanted to go even deeper in the advice. Humans are snoops. They want to peek into others’ lives and see WHAT’s happening. But that isn’t nearly as interesting as digging through their history and thoughts to determine WHY they act as they do and HOW they’re going to deal with what comes next. As Margaret Atwood said in her famous short story, “Happy Endings,”

      “That’s about all that can be said for plots, which anyway are just one thing after another, a what and a what and a what. Now try HOW and WHY.”


  5. hansi says:

    Great post. Thanks for stopping by my blog and enjoying Lutherans. If you were brought up Lutheran, you know well what I was talking about.


  6. Elisabeth Miles says:

    Whenever I weep over a story, it is because I’ve come to really care about the people. To really care about story people you have to see them as real and vulnerable and worthy of your suspended disbelief so that you can care. The only way that happens is if the writer cares, and imbues the characters with sufficient human-ness (life details, problems, characteristics to make them individuals) for the reader to embrace them as real.

    (Of course I weep over my own characters too, then heap on more troubles for them to surmount.)


    • Barb says:

      Wow. Beautifully stated, Beth. Wait a minute, so I can go into edits and paste those beautiful words in. A number of your stories have rung in my mind and heart long after you finished reading them to us. Thank you for sharing your words.


  7. Les O'Riley says:

    Barb, I’ve read your thoughtful literary contributions to the world for a couple of years now. It finally dawned on me that what draws me to come back and take another peek is that your stories are always so grounded in human-ness. People’s thoughts, thoughts about people, just down to earth thoughtful musings about people and the situations we wind up in.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, words, and sprinkles of punctuation. ~ Les


    • Barb says:

      Well thank you, Les. I’m certainly grounded, but most people think it has more to do with animal manure than human stuff. Thank you so much for your kind words.


  8. Alice Lynn says:

    A wonderful story about a wonderful woman. What you say about character (in fiction) helps to answer the question I had this morning on waking: “Why am I writing about this girl?”


    • Barb says:

      I’ve discovered, that I stop asking “why” too soon. Why is my character doing this? Why do it this way? Why do we blog? Why is the world so cranky?
      Errr…well you see what I mean.


  9. Roxie says:

    That was an inspired and loving grandson, and a woman who STILL is full of life. Thanks for this!


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