My husband received a little machine for Christmas to convert slides to digital format. After all, he is the one who has been complaining about the stack of carousel boxes in the closet. (Okay, they were on his side, so he had a right.) He has set a goal of fifty slides a night. My job is to peruse them and tell him what he doesn’t need to bother with, and then to label and organize the digital files into albums in my computer. My face-recognition software sometimes confuses my children with my grandchildren or me with one of my daughters. I guess there must be a family resemblance.
Here before me are my children’s faces at different stages of their lives, places we have lived, people we have known, holidays we have taken. There is even a shot of Halloween celebrated with Brazilian friends in Maputo, Mozambique. The costumes chosen look more like a Juninho Festival in Mato Grosso but there is a paper pumpkin on the wall in one photo and the date on the slide frame is October.
Here is a picture of the international school my girls attended in Mozambique where a little boy used to chase Erika around the playground trying to get her to kiss him. The last day of school Katie moaned about how long it would be before she would see her Libyan friend. (That was the year the U.S. bombed Libya for terrorist involvement.)
Here is the converted American drug pusher who was released on parole to our custody a couple weeks before Erika was born. And here is Queila, the pastor’s daughter who lived with us to go to school, pushing the stroller.
My characters have histories too. They were babies once--even my antagonists. What kind of welcome did that baby receive? They had learning experiences, whether in formal school or in the bush. Were they quick to learn or slow? Who chased them on the playground and why? Where did they vacation? What kind of house did they grown up in? Who were the people who influenced them? What were those relationships like? In the end, what motivates my characters to behave the way they do in the story?
Writers do a lot of pre-writing—writing things you never see in the completed book. I interview my characters, using a list of questions I have collected from various sources over the years, letting them respond in their own voices so I get the feel of how they talk and hear their deepest feelings. One book I read recommended writing a 10-page biography of your main character, five pages for secondary characters. When I’m stuck on what a character would do, or how he/she would respond in a situation, it is often helpful to go back to that biography and those interview questions and dig deeper. I always learn something new.
Next week I’ll be in Indiana helping my father to sort through his stash of slides—many of them my own history. I wonder what new things I will learn about myself.
LeAnne Hardy has lived in six countries on four continents. Her books come out of her cross-cultural experiences and her passion to use story to convey spiritual truths in a form that will permeate lives.
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