A question: Do we make our best writing decisions by living the story or by standing outside it?
Living characters are, I think, created from an eye-to-eye vantage. From our close-in perch, we understand them down to the pores of their skin. Close-in lets us feel their breath and warmth; their heartbeats. The high view, on the other hand, gives us perspective; it lets us see the characters and their movements through the tale as if we were in possession of Harry Potter’s magical map.
Both views, you say. We need both. And yes, we do. But given the asks and the tasks of the work, the two views are not created equal.
Take the problem I’m trying to solve now. The main character is still something of a mystery to me. Getting to the deeps of him has been an illusive assignment. I know what his fate is. I know why what happens will happen. I know how he feels about it. Still, he does not want to reveal himself; and yet I keep trying to get under his emotional skin. Other characters have come more easily: The surprising, step-up hero, for one. But not the man after whom the book is titled.
I think I understand why I’m having such trouble seeing him clearly. He is a mystery to me as a writer because he is a mystery—albeit a wonderful one—to my POV character. It follows that he would be to me what he is to her. The question that grows from the previous one wants to know whether this is perhaps not a good thing…whether this is a mystery worth preserving, in the face of just so many possibilities (and so many clichés among them) that have helped to make him what he is.
To be or not to be: it’s not a question—it’s a Mobius loop.
Characters, for me, need to be experienced from the inside. If their mystery is part of their wonder, does one best leave the mystery alone? And is that where the 3000-foot view comes in? Such are the voices that wake a writer at two in the morning. Such is the climate in a writer’s head: sometimes the sun shines. And sometimes it’s just damned foggy in there.