Alec Nevala-Lee

Thoughts on art, creativity, and the writing life.

Food, sleep, money, and society

with 4 comments

Samuel R. Delany

Ten years ago, before I had had any novels published, as a rule of thumb I constructed a small list of things that I thought all major characters in a novel should be exposed to and allowed to have individual reactions to, to make them appear particularly vivid.

Food: How does the character behave when eating with a group? If possible, how does he or she react when supplying food for others?

Sleep: What particularizes his/her going to sleep, his/her waking up?

Money: How does he or she get his/her shelter, food, and how does she or he feel about how she or he gets it?

Society: How does he or she react to somebody who makes substantially more money than he or she does, and how is this different from the way he or she acts to an economic peer (and believe me, it is different, however admirable)? How does she or he react when she or he meets somebody who makes substantially less money than he or she does (and ditto)?

In a short story, of course, one may not have time to explore all these particular aspects of this character. But I can’t think of one great novelist…who does not particularize her or his characters through at least some of these situations, somewhere or other through their books.

Samuel R. Delany

Written by nevalalee

August 22, 2015 at 7:30 am

Posted in Quote of the Day, Writing

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4 Responses

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  1. This is cool! I like to think that my characters are with me throughout my entire day, and I think about how they would react to every tiny little thing that happens, the kinds of things they would say, the types of people I see who they would be friends with, etc.


    August 23, 2015 at 8:29 am

  2. Interesting. Food, sleep and money are a given, But come to think of it, the aspect of society however, is broader than a character’s reactions to financial strata even though it is inclusive. Others include education, religion, political disposition to mention a few.

    Camp Fire Writers' Network

    August 25, 2015 at 7:08 am

  3. @zoemoukian: After you’ve been writing the same story for long enough, the characters stick with you all day, whether you like it or not.


    September 6, 2015 at 2:26 pm

  4. @Camp Fire Writers’ Network: I think every writer develops his or her own lists. Delany’s is useful mostly because it reminds us of aspects of life that are often neglected in fiction: there are plenty of thrillers, for instance, in which the characters never seem to find time to eat.


    September 6, 2015 at 2:28 pm

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