In this post you will learn a novel approach to define your character through reflection. You will also learn how to better understand family and friends by having a genuine conversation with them. Many thanks to Jack Woodville London, who provided the inspiration for this post.
What is Reflection?
The story below illustrates a novel approach to defining your character through reflection. In many of my posts I talk about the importance of reflecting. So what exactly do I mean by reflecting?
“Reflecting is the act of giving serious thought to something.”
When I reflect, I prefer to journal about my thoughts. There are so many benefits to journaling, and I agree with Benjamin Hardy that journaling can be life-changing. Absolutely anyone can journal, you don’t need to be a writing whiz. If writing your innermost thoughts down is scary to you, try another method to reflect:
- Use a dictation app
- Create reflection notes on your phone
- Talking to a friend or loved one
- Think to yourself.
The key here is that you’re giving consideration to things that matter in your life. YOUR life, not someone else’s.
Reflection is a powerful tool, one that can be used to advance your life and happiness. Here is a story illustrating one example of how this can happen. Advanced warning, this post is a little long but hopefully you enjoy reading it!
A Story About Character Definition
A novel approach to defining your character through reflection: the story of Emma & Jack
Jack and Emma were in the kitchen having coffee for breakfast, like they do nearly every morning. “Jack, I have an announcement” Emma said. “I’ve given myself a deadline. I need to finish my book by the end of the summer.” Jack responded “that’s pretty ambitious, how are you going to fit that in?” Still feeling upbeat, Emma said “I don’t know but I’m going to figure it out! Writing and planning this novel has gone on too long. I’m going to the library to do some research and hopefully I can formulate a plan today.” Emma had been trying to write a novel for the past two years and while her storyline was good she couldn’t seem to bring her main character to life. She knew a publisher would never pick up a book if the main cast of characters lacked gusto.
The lucky find
When Emma returned from the library that night she had a new book in hand. It was written by a famous author and included suggestions on how to write a novel. The paperback was short and wouldn’t take her long to read. She was hopeful some of the tips could be applied quickly, propelling her toward the finish line. Emma planned to take a trip to their cabin up north for the weekend so she could focus. it was always difficult to leave Jack, especially for or overnight trips but this was important to Emma. By default it was also important to Jack, the ever supportive husband.
On the 2-hour long drive to the cabin Emma thought about the characters in her book. One idea she had was changing her protagonist’s name from Jonathan, which sounded boring and lawyerly, to Alex, which sounded more intriguing. Yep, perhaps the name change would help build her character’s personal. Awhile later Emma arrived to her own personal seclusion. She phoned Jack to let him know she’d made it to the cabin. Although his wife was smart and very independent, Jack always worried about Emma being out by herself. She was the love of his life, and it was comforting to know for certain she was safe. “Glad you made it there Ems. Call me again tonight when you’re done writing for the day. I love you.” Jack was never one to talk on the phone much but that didn’t bother Emma now, she was anxious to get working.
Emma spent the next two and a half hours reading her library book. She took several pages of notes and tagged pages she wanted to return to with tiny post-its. Finding this book was the greatest inspiration she could have randomly come across. There was so much she wanted to change and add to her novel, and she knew this was the right step to push her forward. It was already 11 p.m.
Emma took a short break and phoned in an order from the local pizza joint. Then she called Jack. Before he could say hello Emma blurted “ I’ve made so much progress Jack! This research and the library and the trip to the cabin are really paying off!” “That’s great, what did you write about?” Jack asked. Emma stuttered around a bit before responding, “Well actually, I really haven’t written anything, but I have so many ideas.” Jack tried to remain positive but the only thing he could think about was that Emma hadn’t even written anything. They briefly chatted about Jack’s day and then hung up. Jack was about ready to turn in for the night, but his wife wasn’t even close to sleep.
Emma knew her pen would be moving all night long. It was no time to take a break, with so many ideas floating around her brain. She grabbed her writing journal and set to work on redefining Alex. So far in the novel Emma had written about Alex’s physical features and his background. There was a few paragraphs about his past girlfriends and his career aspirations, yet there was little about who Alex really was.
The creation of Alex
On a single page in her instructional writing book Emma learned the key to what was missing from her novel. One page, a list of 12 questions. Questions to truly understand who a character was. If Emma could author the answers to these questions she was sure her novel would be complete. This is just what she needed to help subtly explain the enigma of Alex. Emma carefully pondered the first question from the book.
1) What is his most valued possession?
Emma’s tongue was curled loosely around the tip of her pen, as she stared off into space. She’d found in these types of situations it was best to just write a mind-dump; she could always edit later. Emma wrote and wrote and wrote. She provided detailed responses to all 12 questions in her journal. Within a matter of hours Alex was like a real person, an interesting person, someone who Emma knew so intricately it was like they grew up together.
The next morning Emma woke up and made some coffee. She knew it would take her several days to edit her novel, weaving in Alex’s new persona all over the pages. This exercise was extremely helpful and while she made a lot of progress with Alex there were still other characters that she needed to develop using the same 12-question process. Emma set to work right away but rather than journaling she decided to use her laptop because it was quite a bit faster, and would make for easier copying and pasting. By late Saturday night she had all of her characters fully developed. Now she just needed to work them into the book.
Meanwhile back at home Jack had been waiting most of the day for a call from Emma. He was hesitant to call her; he knew she didn’t like being interrupted while she was writing. Jack spent the day putzing around the house. That night he threw together some leftovers in the fridge for dinner and sat down to watch some TV. At 11:30 p.m. he glanced at the clock and decided it was time to call Emma. Jack was a little dismayed at not having heard from her all day.
When Emma’s cellphone vibrated it startled her and she jumped in her chair. She had been typing most of the night, not even pausing for dinner. Emma picked up the phone, saw that it was Jack and noticed the time. Oh crap, she thought, I should have called him much earlier. “Hello sweetie” she answered. “Emma, are you okay?” were Jack’s first words. He had used her name, which he only did when he was upset. Emma hated making him worry, and did her best to smooth things during their brief conversation. After they said their goodnights Emma decided it was time for bed. She would get up early, do a little more writing in the morning and be home by mid-afternoon so she could spend some quality time with Jack.
Emma edited all Sunday morning. After a late breakfast and some more coffee she packed up the car. She was pleased with her progress this weekend, and she was finally able to take her mind off the novel for awhile. While taking in the beautiful scenery and the slow but steady transition from country to city, Emma’s thoughts were focused on Jack. She’d only been gone two days and two nights, but she missed him. She missed his teasing smiles, his tickles and his embrace. Emma was singing along to one of their favorite songs, when she had a monumental realization. Her breath caught, and she said aloud, “Oh my God, I know my character better than my husband!” She put a little more pressure on the gas pedal, wanting to talk with Jack immediately.
When Emma arrived at home she found Jack working on the car in the garage. He had grease smeared on his face and dirt under his fingernails. Beads of sweat hung on his forehead. He hadn’t showered, but she couldn’t wait to hug him. He shrugged off her advance saying “You’ll ruin your clothes”. It was obvious Jack was still hurt that Emma hadn’t called him at all the day before. Emma said “I love you Jack. I’m going to unpack and shower.” “OK” he replied.
Jack finished up working on the car a few minutes later. He went inside and grabbed a can of beer. Emma was in the shower, her suitcase lying open on the bed. Jack could see her journal on top, with several torn out sheets of paper protruding from the book. He usually steered clear of her journal, because he respected her privacy and didn’t think she had anything to hide.
Jack’s curiosity and jealousy got the best of him and he picked up the journal. Emma had been behaving oddly yesterday and the fact that she didn’t call him at all was something he couldn’t seem to get off his mind. He recognized Emma’s handwriting on the torn-out pages. Her words caught him off guard and he couldn’t remove his eyes from the page. He read quickly, and felt as though he was being slapped it the face and stabbed in the heart concurrently.
Alex, beautiful, gorgeous Alex. He values money above all else, and everyone he encounters can quickly ascertain that fact. But it’s a belief that has treated him well, his millions prove it. Alex doesn’t throw money away, he is careful with it. At times he works hard to earn it, but on the outside it looks as though it flows to him. It’s like the money is magnetized and Alex is the strongest, most powerful magnet in the world.
Alex credits his grandfather with instilling in him the value of money. Pappy, as only Alex calls him, always said “A dollar in the market is worth ten in your pocket. Let other people and their companies do the work for you, and you can reap the benefits from their successes.”
There were five more pages of Jack’s wife gushing on and on about another man, but he didn’t need to read any more. Jack clenched those pages in his fist and threw the journal against the wall. He stormed into the bathroom and flung the shower curtain open. Emma screamed and opened her eyes, now stinging with shampoo. “Jack, what are you doing?” she asked. His face was contorted, and flushed bright red. As Emma tried to process his expression she noticed what looked like tears in his eyes. No he’s not crying, she thought, it had to be the shampoo still making her own eyes foggy.
“Emma, who the hell is Alex? How could you do this to me?” Jack threw the crumpled papers down on the floor and stormed out of the bathroom. It took Emma a few moments to recognize the journal pages. She had torn them out because it was easier to type from the loose pages than the bound journal book. Emma reached for the towel and wrapped it around her. She picked up the now-worn pages and went to find Jack.
“Jack” she said, “Alex is not a real person, he’s the protagonist in my book. These pages are what I used to develop his character. I am not cheating on you, Alex is a product of my imagination.” He looked at her, stunned. “What happened to Jonathan?” was his only reply. “Jonathan turned into Alex. It’s the same character, but I changed the name and built his personality. That’s what I was working on yesterday. I did it for all of my characters. Jack, I love you, and only you.” Emma put her arms around Jack, and he opened up to her.
The genuine conversation
Emma continued, “I did realize something on my drive home though, and I was really anxious to talk to you about it. The stuff I wrote about Alex, it was based on these 12 questions from a book I found at the library. It said to make a story interesting, you need to understand these things about the characters. Not every detail has to be part of the book, but the author needs to know. After creating such detailed personas of all my characters, it hit me that I don’t know all of your answers to these questions. There are some questions I don’t even know my own answers to. If I’m going to be this close with fictional characters, I’d really like to know these things about you, and me!”
Jack smiled and kissed Emma’s forehead. He said “Well, let’s sit down to a nice dinner and talk about your precious questions.” For the rest of the evening Jack and Emma talked and talked and talked. Just before bed that night Jack said “You know, journaling about all those questions for your characters was really a novel approach.” Emma smirked and said “Jack, that’s the book I read! It was called A Novel Approach.”
Who is the Author of Your Life?
The story of Emma & Jack is fictional, but the insight and the book A Novel Approach are quite real. I picked up the tome from my local library hoping to glean a few writing tips. Although the book, authored by Jack Woodville London, was geared toward novelists and I focus on nonfiction, I knew there was bound to be something I could learn.
The realization Emma had while driving – that she didn’t know the answers to the character defining questions for herself or her husband – was similar to my response. If an author must know the answer to these questions to fully understand and explain his or her character, it seems logical that we should know these things about ourselves and our loved ones. After all,
Aren’t we the authors of our own lives???
I reflected on what my answers to the 12 questions were. I also probed boyfriend John for his responses. Although he wasn’t as “into” the conversation as me, it was still a deeply genuine interaction. And I’ll keep asking these and other thought-provoking questions 🙂 It’s important to me that we continue to develop a better understanding of each other, and it’s helpful for our relationship.
A novel approach to define your character through reflection
The lesson in the story is it’s never too late to learn more about yourself or loved ones in your life. How can you do this? By reflecting, by journaling, by talking. In order to live by your values, to be fulfilled and to feel your life has a purpose, you need to know what makes you happy. You need to understand how the things you do have a positive impact on those around you. If you cannot answer the 12 questions for yourself clearly and openly, spend time reflecting about them. Seek to further develop the character of You!
This is also a great exercise to gain perspective and understanding of those you love. The people you spend the most time with and the people you care about should feel that you know them. The mark of a true friend is one who knows what you value, and understands what’s important to you. Are you a true friend to others?
Use the questions below, and any others you can think of, to better understand yourself and those you care deeply about.
12 questions of character development
This is a great example of an insight taken from fiction writing techniques and adapted for personal growth. It truly is a novel approach to define your character through reflection! Answer these questions for yourself, and then talk about each topic with those you love. I bet you’ll learn something profoundly interesting 🙂
Without further ado…here are the 12 questions of character development from A Novel Approach by Jack Woodville London (pronouns and wording has been slightly adapted to help put the focus on YOU not a character):
- What is your most valued possession?
- Who would you give it to? Who wouldn’t you want to ever have it?
- What do you consider your greatest achievement in life?
- What is your greatest failure?
- If you suddenly became wealthy, or impoverished, what would you do differently?
- To whom do you give credit, or blame, for being in the position you’re in?
- What event in your life do you consider to have brought you to where you are now?
- What would you do differently if you had the choice?
- If you could be omnipotent for a day and save only one life, who would it be?
- What is your Greatest Secret?
- Who might you want to learn it? Who knows it already?
- What does you think about when you’re alone at night and the lights are out, or on long car ride with the radio off?
What are your favorite reflection questions?
Join in the conversation by sharing your open-ended questions that have helped you define your character and better understand or connect with loved ones. What’s your novel approach to defining character through reflection? Comment on the blog and/or tweet your reflection topics using @angieking24 #reflect
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