This past Thursday, DD hosted an event at Harbourfront Centre to explore the dynamics of character development. Panelists of the evening included Priscila Uppal, Ins Choi and Cherie Dimaline. The discussion was moderated by the Globe and Mail’s Kate Taylor.
The evening started off with the panelists selecting identity cards (one word identifiers contributed by the audience) to create a character based on three attributes: physical, social and cultural. The discussion began light-hearted with questions about how identities are defined, and the panelists revealing that most often times their characters are based on people they already know. When writing a play, Ins shared that he usually has actors in mind for specific characters and would develop the characters peppered with each actor’s mannerisms and personality traits.
As the night went on, the panelists touched upon the difficulties of creating characters outside what they know, in terms of ethnicity and cultural backgrounds; physical handicaps and deformities. Kate painstakingly researched Jewish history and culture, as well as consulted her Jewish friends when writing her award-winning novel,Madame Proust and the Kosher Kitchen, which in the end paid off. She told the audience that she was quite confident when writing about her characters after all the research she conducted until her Jewish experts shattered her ego letting her know—“that would never happen,” or “a Jewish person wouldn’t say that!” Even though she received plenty of constructive criticisms from her friends, it is what, Kate thinks, made her story believable.
The discussion was very engaging with the panelists telling stories and personal experiences about their own conflicts with cultural and racial stereotypes. It almost felt as though the audience was a fly on the wall listening in on a group of intimate friends’ discussing how they tackle building characters in their writing. This was certainly a great way to cap off the night with an informative and thoughtful conversation that pertains to everyday life and revealing the thought process of artists as they create memorable characters.