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April 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 7

Writers on Writing / Walter Dean Myers on Connecting with Your Characters

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      As a child, I loved stories and the characters I discovered in my reading. Everyone told me that the worlds I encountered when I curled up with a book were purely imaginary and had no actual ties to life. Assuming this was true, I approached writing as an exercise in creating "other worldly" scenarios. As I continued my writing career, however, I began to sense that the characters in my stories not only had strong connections with me, but that they also related strongly to my outlook on the world. I saw the world through the eyes of my characters and spoke through them, not just for them. The world I imagined was an integral part of the world in which I lived.
      My wife recently described me as "bookish." At first I was a bit put out by this, as I interpreted her one-word description as synonymous with nerdy. On reflection, though, I agreed. I spend most of my life writing, thinking about writing, or reading what others have written. I am, indeed, bookish. I am also, by some standards, somewhat nerdy.
      As a teenager, I went out of my way to avoid being thought of as a nerd. I took brown paper bags to the library with me so other kids wouldn't know I was borrowing books. But today, I've learned to embrace the idea of being bookish and to relish my involvement with language and stories.
      During my prewriting phase, I cut out and reproduce photographs of all my characters (or people who resemble them) and put them on my wall behind my computer. So when I sit down to actually write, I look up, and there they all are, looking down at me—these people who are so closely connected to who I am. What a pleasure to greet them each morning, what an absolute pleasure to know I will spend the day with them.
      I've learned to love who I was as a teenager. Isn't that wonderful?
      Reprinted by permission of Miriam Altshuler Literary Agency, on behalf of Walter Dean Myers. Copyright © 2014 Walter Dean Myers.

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