Sometime recently, I was flipping through an issue of Writer’s Digest. I came across an interview of Pat Conroy and his wife, writer Cassandra King. I read the article, not because I am a huge fan of Southern fiction, but because I was intriqued about what it might be like to be married to a novelist…and married to a novelist. Do they help one another? Do they critique and offer suggestions? Do they ever see each other, or are they hooked to their laptops all the time?
Well, I did learn the answers to some of those questions, but what I got out of the article was something entirely different. “Go deeper,” says Pat Conroy. Humphf. I wondered about that statement. “Go deeper? Whatever.” I wondered how a writer could go any deeper than creating a fictional character and have them come to life on the page. Reading ahead, I got this: go deeper than you might ordinarily go in “real” life. Ah ha! Now I was getting it.
As a writer, one must “go deeper” than they thought possible. Have your character do something that isn’t really all that “characteristic” of them. Press and prod where you don’t think it would be appropriate in “real” life, after all, no one wants to read dialog that is sensored. Go deeper and ask the questions you wouldn’t ordinarily ask. Say what’s on your mind, do what you’ve always wanted to do, but held back for some reason.
For example, what would you really say to the friend who was having an affair? How do you really feel about your brother’s new girlfriend? What would you really say to the new mother whose baby just isn’t well…cute? Get it all out there and then go back and edit. But leave in a few “I-would-never-really-say/do-thats” just to keep it interesting, just to keep going deeper.