I love buying eggs from my next-door neighbor.
Aren’t they lovely? So many different colors! On the outside, anyway — inside, eggs are eggs. Lisa has at least four varieties of hens running around her yard, maybe even five or six. It’s so much fun to look out my kitchen window and see them scurrying to and fro in search of bugs and other good things to eat.
We used to have chickens, too, but they eventually went into chicken retirement. (You can read about that here.) They provided not only eggs (and amusement), but also food for thought. Click here for a link to a blog post from a few years back that was inspired by a little backyard observation.
That’s the best kind of observation, really, isn’t it?
So what does this motley dozen nesting on my kitchen table tell me today? Well, perhaps that despite our outward trappings–race, nationality, gender, faith, age, political leanings, etc.–on the inside, where it really counts, we’re all the same. As a writer, I’ve learned that it’s the inside of my characters that counts, too. Whether I’m writing about a girl on an adventure at sea in 1835 (THE VOYAGE OF PATIENCE GOODSPEED), a mouse who dreams of being a secret agent and the fifth grade boy who helps her out (THE BLACK PAW), modern-day stepsisters on the receiving end of a spell gone terribly wrong (ONCE UPON A TOAD), or a whole cast of moms and daughters who end up reading the classics together (THE MOTHER-DAUGHTER BOOK CLUB), it’s the heart of the matter that’s most important.
Sure, I need to pay attention to details like dress and appearance and mannerisms and all that. It’s part of my job (and a very fun part, I might add) to make the window dressing as interesting and alluring as possible. But what is it that really connects us to those who live out their lives on the written page? What is it that makes some characters wrap themselves around our hearts? Think Charlotte and Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web. Or India Opal Buloni in Because of Winn-Dixie. Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird.
It’s what’s on the inside, isn’t it? It’s their hopes and fears and worries, their dreams and yearnings. Those “inside the egg” things that each one of us can relate to, and that ultimately connect us all. So when you’re writing, be sure to crack open that shell and breathe life into your character from the inside.
Give your character a heart, and it will speak to the heart in your reader.