Writing Craft

A writer should create living people

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

Dear Franz,

More in this idea of the novelist as crusader. The more I think about it, the more I am convinced there needs to be this division between the novel and one’s opinions–but how to be specific? I believe that writing a novel well means opening the story to the possibility that all of one’s beliefs and opinions may be wrong. It is about introducing characters that hold many positions–some of which you disagree with–and allowing them to be human. “A writer should create living people.” That is, with all the doubts, convictions and blind spots that would be truthful to the character (I think Bellow does this well: Charlie Citrine, Augie March, Henderson, Herzog…).

Ernest Hemingway a writer should create living peopleIn Le Guin’s The Word for World is Forest the character Davidson in some way has no flaws. He is perfectly evil. He has no–or rather, between him and the narrator there are no blind spots, everything is known and seen. Except that we see very little of why Davidson is so evil. He is a stereotype, perhaps even a character. But as Hemingway said: there are no characters in stories, only people.

What is literature in this account? Surely if it is anything at all it is the relegation of flaws, not merely in those who people the novel but, more importantly perhaps, in the author’s opinions of the way in which the world works. Does it not open up to us the system and structures of oppression and of suffering, of the “hidden” powers and ideologies of “truth” to explore and in some cases explode the ways we think? This is why Le Guin’s work is so powerful in terms of gender, human exceptionalism, and human dominance of the environment–because her “opinion” perhaps is not to be preached but itself is to be explored and exploded.

And here–I am happy too that this is, will be, my approach. In fact, coming to this conclusion, I have, in our work, Franz, I have thought for the first time that, yes, I have this novelist’s attribute, and in fact I have never been a crusading novelist… rather, there is something in me that wants also to crusade, and it takes up my time, but it is not the work I write. And that to actually be a “voice for the animals” as I see my vocation to be is perfectly adaptable… no, wrong word… can fit with also being a writer. The truth of being a writer. Of novels and of other books.

However, that does mean I need to focus and get on with writing novels, and other books. I could carry on, Franz, but I did not sleep well last night and I rose a little late. I should get on.


image of Ernest Hemingway, ca. 1939. Photograph by Lloyd Arnold

About Alex R Lockwood

I learn as much about the the art of living through literature (especially Kafka) as I do through other people. I read and write fiction and non-fiction, and research the cultural value of the creative writer; the ways that literature impacts our lives; the craft of writing, particularly what it means to be a non-anthropocentric (vegan) writer; the representation of animals; and the ethics of human-animal relations in literature, media and culture since 1945. This site is a platform for capturing the threads of different literary projects and, I hope, offers something to those thinking through the value of reading and writing in their lives.

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