The Blog of Author Robert K. Lewis

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.

16,425 days.

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?


4 responses

  1. Awesome post!! And a HUGE HAPPY BIRTHDAY!!!

    Great point about making sure your characters have “lived” according to their age. Living gives one depth of character, and character is always a good thing, even if it comes with sagging body parts. ; )

    06/24/2010 at 9:47 pm

  2. Thanks!

    As Indiana Jones put so well, “It’s not the years, it’s the mileage.”

    And I’m due for my 100,000 mile tune up.:-)

    06/24/2010 at 10:42 pm

  3. It is a good point that the characters need to sound authentic to their ages. So much of the time, especially with YA, the characters sound much older and wiser than would really be at that age.

    I have an award for you over on my blog, if you choose to accept it…Happy belated birthday! 🙂

    07/01/2010 at 5:03 pm

  4. Hey, thanks for that! I’ll be over, and thanks for the belated b-day wishes! 🙂

    07/06/2010 at 9:16 pm

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