How Many Days Have You Been Alive?
I know, what? Why, you’re asking yourself, is this on a blog about writing?
We’ll get there, trust me. Work with me on this one.
Yesterday was my birthday. For some reason, I sat down to figure out how many days I’ve actually been around.
Well, I’ve been here 16,425 days. I know: YOUCH! I get even more tired just thinking about it. And trust me, you oh-so-do-not want to know how many of those days have been spent drunk. No, you don’t. Really.
All those days, all that time that has gone into making me who I am. All that time that’s helped form not only me, but “me”. My character (or lack thereof, natch).
When people meet me, they know I’ve been around awhile. They can tell. A good while, too, and it’s not just because of the white in the beard, or the fact that I need a radio flyer to drag around behind me certain body parts that have given up in their quest to fight gravity. No, people know I’ve been around because I’ve got a background, stories to relate, and opinions to voice (usually when drunk, unfortunately).
And now we come to it: do your characters, your story people, sound like people that have hanging around for X amount of days? My current protagonist is a person in their early 40’s, so they’ve been around for about 15,000 days and some change. Does this protag sound and act like they’ve been around that long? Do their opinions and their interior thoughts reflect that amount of time spent here on Earth, living, loving, fighting, thinking, crying, etc?
They better, kiddo, if I want my protag to be a fully fleshed-out character. Someone with depth and complexity, and more importantly, one that feels real to the reader.
So, think about your characters, about how old they are. Then translate their age into how many days they’ve been here, and then after you’ve done that sit down and really be honest with yourself about if your story people reflect that amount of time, or do they instead sound like cardboard cutouts that have just appeared in your book for the sake of the story. If your answer is that they do indeed sound like puppets or cliches, then spend some time with Ye Olde and Friendly Character Background Sheet and work up some events in their their lives that tested them, pushed them to the limit, or even made them the happiest they’ve ever been.
Your story is supposed to be the biggest event that’s ever happened in the life of your protagonist. Now, that can only really happen IF they’ve had a life up until that point, right?
How many days have you been alive?