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bear by san

March 2017

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bear by san

Characters and subclinical scizophrenia

I like to think musical selections like the above indicate my flexibility. :-)

I'm on a couple of mailing lists for writers, and it's interesting to me the number of people who really are looking for the magic Get Published Button. And I think I've found it: the problem is, like everything magic, it requires a certain amount of native talent and demands a price. The native talent may be negotiable: I have some (not as much as some of the 20-year-old-wunderkinds out there producing award-quality material, but I have some. And I have a passion to tell stories, which counts for something.) and I know more successful writers who I suspect have less native talent and do a lot more with it.

The price is not negotiable. The price is the rest of your life.

And that's where most writers fail, I think: because (especially when you're where I am, with a few manuscripts finished and making the rounds, and a few more clamoring to get out) it's so easy to get frustrated, give up, go do something productive with your time. So at a certain point, grim determination has to kick in. And then you know what you know. Which is that you'll either be a writer or you'll die trying.

I've quit writing three times so far. I recommend it, if you can--quitting, I mean.

For me, quitting didn't take, and I'm fifteen years in (not counting breaks as time spent in practice) and finally learning a craft that seduced me when I was six or seven and got my hands on a copy of Watership Down and didn't understand a word of it, but loved them all.

And then said, "I wanna do that."

So here I am with five and a half novels, some of them pretty good, a few dozen short stories, a few semipro sales and my two shiny pro credits... and it's time to get out and push.

What does this have to do with characters?

One of those writing lists hosts a semiannual discussion of how to make your characters more real, and I have to admit that I'm hopeless at this. I'm an enormously character-driven writer, and I think in general my characters are very good. (I seem to have a special knack for older female protags.) But tell you how I create them?

Damned if I know. They show up. Intellectually, I know every last one of them is a piece of me--and some of them are pieces of me that I'm not particularly proud of--but on an emotional level, they seem like people I know and, in many cases, don't particularly like. I know other writers talk about the difficulties they have in hurting their protags because they identify with them.

I don't seem to have an issue with that. Because, maybe, I don't see it as me hurting them, but as other characters, acting according to their nature, hurting them.

I do outline--usually on the level of having lists of plot developments, conflicts, and cool bits to come--but my characters constantly surprise me as well. For example, one of the characters in Scardown sort of roused himself this morning and said, "You realize, of course, that I am taking it upon myself to put the fear of me into Character Y today."

And I said, "That's not in the plan, but dude, run with it."

Because he would. I know, because I know, and I can even explain why. I can explain how this person came to be the person he is, and fuck the consequences, for once in his life.

Now, how he came to be developed as a character? Not a clue.

Borderline schizophrenia. It's the only explanation: a large part of my brain lives in a complex and consistent fantasy world. The redeeming characteristic is that I *know* it's a fantasy world.

I'm sure a competent shrink could figure out why my psyche spawned this little semiautonomous persona. But I'm not really sure I care: He's sorta neat to have around.

Comments

(Anonymous)

Rhonda

I agree. Since I know my character's entire life story, and why they are the way they are, I don't feel any guilt when I hurt them. It's not me it Y or Z, or even the character acting according to nature. Whatever causes that sort of involved knowledge and consequent character manipulation, I think God for it. I've seen what stories can be like without it ::Grin::

(Anonymous)

Rhonda

You know - I'm more and more glad I have nothing to do with the OWW mailing list. It sounds far too pat on the back juvenille for me. Badpoets rule!
::Grin::

MPD


Maybe it's schizophrenia and MPD? Because there's that whole obsessively developed, internally-consistent fantasy world issue, as well. :-)

It's all very strange, this being a writer thing....

(Anonymous)

From John B - Ack! Erk!

Ack! Erk! Garp. Choke. Spew.

Roberta Flack? Killing me softly...? Oh please, just kill me now! Ebear. My great respect for you took a serious blow when I read you were listening to that song. Whenever I hear it, I feel like someone is pulling my brain out of my ears...slowly...with pliers.

Of course, the Alice Cooper helped to redeem you somewhat. Tele-phone is ringing!

John

Re: From John B - Ack! Erk!


I never said I *liked* the song.

Although I heard a rumor that she wrote it for Don McClean, which redeems the horrible thing somewhat....

(Anonymous)

Re: From John B - Ack! Erk!

Well...okay. But be more careful in the future. Listening to Roberta FLack is a the beginning of a downward spiral that can only end in the uncontrolled urge to pay hundreds of dollars for Celine Dion tickets.

John
Oh man oh man, do I know where you're coming from.

I've got nearly the same thing. My work is very very character driven - heck, often a whole story will rise from a persistent character who won't get out of my head.

Which brings me to your other point - where the heck these people come from. I couldn't tell you. They just. show. up. And then, either I write them or they sit in the back of my head niggling at me. And then I eventually end up writing them.

Just as you said. I can explain to you thier personal development, thier childhood, what makes them the person they are. How they came into my head? I couldn't tell you.

Sometimes, I feel more like a historian than a writer.