ECU’s Mock Trial Team is wrestling with a first-degree murder case this season. The students assume attorney and witness roles for the prosecution and defense in a fictional, 357 page case, sans addenda, that’s chock-full of twists, reasonable doubt, and evidence–LOTS of evidence.
As a coach, I am duty-bound to help a student-witness enter a character’s life–so that she understands the person so deeply that she becomes that person. Her role surpasses cheap acting or bathos. This is a nation-wide competition, and the team will compete with the “best.” But, more importantly, a student learns to understand another’s choices or lack of choices. In short, she practices empathy.
I tell a student (ad nauseum) that the jury must “feel and believe your story.” You must live, eat, and breathe every facet of that person’s life. The “witness” isn’t a witness. She’s a human being. She’s a second victim. She’s hurting. Or, maybe she’s pleased with herself (her role as accessory–obtaining the date-rape drug for the Defendant is “no biggie”). What would she do? What would she say? How can you make her sympathetic? Make her real.
So, last week, I had a moment. I sat in the office, staring down a WIP and realized that I don’t follow my own advice. I try. But, I’d committed a reckless failure to “empathize” with the protag. (done without malice aforethought, but still…). Then I got over myself, opened a blank page, and remembered that writing is an act of crafting argument, after argument, after argument, persuading the reader by offering evidence, so that she’ll draw the conclusions about the character and her journey. The evidence must be believable. Or else, a reader, advisor, (or jury) won’t buy it.
How do you choose the evidence (during revision) that best showcases your character? How much evidence does your reader need? How do you step into your character’s skin (without committing battery)? Share your Getting-to-Know-Your-Character exercises.
BTW, Happy Book Birthday to Anne Ursu’s novel, Breadcrumbs! Go, Anne! :0)
This post is adjourned…