Revealing Character

Salman Rushdie

Lesson time 16:19 min

Learn the elements that help you reveal more about your characters than adjectives alone can.

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Topics include: Introducing the Character: Start With What’s Most Interesting · Choosing a Narrator: How the Reader Sees Your Character · Reveal Your Character Through Words and Action · Decide What Dialogue Is Doing · Listen to the Rhythm of Speech · Developing Believable Dialogue · Practice Differentiating Characters


SALMAN RUSHDIE: Bartleby, quick, I am waiting. I heard a slow scrape of his chair legs on the uncarpeted floor. And soon he appeared standing at the entrance of his hermitage. What is wanted, said he mildly. The copies, the copies, said I hurriedly. We're going to examine them there. And I held towards him the fourth quadruplicate. I would prefer not to, he said, and gently disappeared behind the screen. For a few moments, I was turned into a pillar of salt, standing at the head of my seated column of cloaks. Recovering myself, I advanced towards the screen and demanded the reason for such extraordinary conduct. Why do you refuse? I would prefer not to. [MUSIC PLAYING] What is something unusual about them? When Joyce introduces Leopold Bloom in "Ulysses," he starts with the sentence, "Mr. Leopold Bloom age with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls." The fact that he likes offal, that he likes tripe, that he likes et cetera, all that, you kind of almost immediately have a sense of him because of what he eats, which is not usual, certainly not to me. I mean, I'm not a big fan of the inner organs of beasts and fowls. But I love it that he is. You need to come up with some aspect of your character that is idiosyncratic, that not everybody would share, that is special to that character. And start there. Then you can broaden it into all sorts of things. If there's a character with green hair, tell us that first. I think in Isabel Allende's "House of the Spirits," there's a character with green hair. And she puts it right up front. You're immediately intrigued. When you begin a book, and the reader can sit there and think, well the books that think, you want to intrigue them so that they want the journey. [MUSIC PLAYING] The decision between the first and third person is really the question about whether you want to have your reader see your character from the outside and only gradually penetrate to the deeper layers of the character or whether you want your reader to see the character from the inside, see them as they see themselves, and then for your reader to decide whether the way the character presents himself or herself is truthful. If you're using the first person, you're usually saying, trust me, I'm your storyteller. But if your storyteller is a liar, then they're presenting themselves in a way that is false. And what you as the author can do is begin to point the reader to see the discrepancies between the way in which the character is describing themselves and how other people might see that character. There can be parts of a book which are subjective, written through the first person view of the character, and others which are objective, which come outside the character and look at it from outside. You can have novels in which there's more than one first person character and in which the different narrators don't always see the story the same way. There are some books which have, really, multipl...

About the Instructor

To the delight of readers across the globe, Salman Rushdie’s genre-defying novels have brought surreal and magical realms to life for decades. Now the Booker Prize–winning author teaches you the art and craft of storytelling. Learn how to draw from your own experiences to build vivid worlds, authentic characters, and complex plots. There are extraordinary stories that only you can write—start sharing them.

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Salman Rushdie

Booker Prize winner Salman Rushdie teaches you his techniques for crafting believable characters, vivid worlds, and spellbinding stories.

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