You are currently browsing the category archive for the ‘Creating characters’ category.
I know some. Not all. Not yet.
I know the sound of your voice.
And the shape of your body as you stand.
I know why you smile. I know when.
I know you, fingertips and feet, and the gray in your unshaven face.
I know you in the morning, your eyes across the pillow.
I know your silences and your guilt and your mistakes;
your secrets and the mask you hold against the world.
I know what you do in this world—I know what you intend there,
although I don’t yet know why.
I know the passion you will not confess.
And your resistance and refusal and the generous you.
I know what will shatter your world,
and the assassin role that authors play.
To write, we must first love.
And hope that our plot obeys that love.
We must know the character down to the faintest breath,
and still hope, always, to be surprised.
To imagine completely, love helplessly, ruin willingly,
is a control, a luxury, that real life does not permit us.
Did we see these moments clearly and remember them well,
in the hyper focus alive behind the writer’s eye…
or did we merely imagine them?
The adoration of characters in a created world
elevates our private silences, and yet spoils us for so much else.
It sours us for the mundane, even as it exalts the fleeting and the ordinary.
And, in our most closely held honesty,
we know we have surrendered the truths of the beating-heart life
for something that will never keep us warm or hold our hands;
the friend that a solitary grownup can cherish,
perfect, outlandish, imaginary, and undeniably real.
Can one love air?
No, not the breathable stuff, but an essential substance of a different kind: the beings that live in our personal ether. The creatures of our imaginings.
I’ve confessed before in this space that I am in love with a flesh-and-blood man I have never met. I admit reluctantly that I bear a great and impossible affection for a another breathing being of slight acquaintance. And, too, I hold close an enduring love for a being made of nothing more than the air between my ears.
I am in love with the man I am writing.
I do not entirely know this enigmatic being. I know only what he chooses to show me. And yet, I love what I see.
A cruel and a bizarre truth, this—carrying an imagined life; feeling as full of mourning and loss as if he were a mate far from me. And stranger still, this is, in all its cheerless truth, a relationship more satisfying than all the encounters of online dating so far.
And no, I am not insane. Is any writer?
If the writer loves an unreal being with all her heart, is he alive in the alternate universe of us? Can we, like Pygmalion, animate our beloved out of wish and vision? Can we, in the absence of real love, live in our heads and not wind up as pathetic life-wannabes?
I choose to believe so. I choose to believe that human interactions can and will live up to my imagined ones…eventually. I believe it, I hope it…but I don’t hope too hard.
Perhaps a better model—a less melancholy one—is Elwood P. Dowd, friend and companion to a six-foot tall, invisible rabbit named Harvey. Elwood was unconcerned about who might not believe in the unseen creature that walked beside him. He was content in a friendship, a love, that was real to him. The rest was interpretation.
So perhaps I’ll just continue to live my enduring, breathtaking affection for the creature of my creation. My Elwood’s Rabbit. At worst, he is an idealization of a never-to-be-known love. At best, he is an expressions of love for myself. I’ll take the truth, either way it comes.
Sometimes you ride the words, sometimes the words ride you.
And sometimes, even staying on for eight seconds is about as impossible as it gets.
Been working on a scene about a fire; a blind man caught in a burning room… how it feels to smell the smoke, to have one’s senses fail one by one in the struggle to find an to escape, until all that is left is surrender.
It’s an evocative passage, full of terror and tragedy. And yet, it has been a labor of Sisyphus to get it over the top. Mental prep for creating a scene like this is, at its best, a joy…a full, rich readiness to create that world-entire caught in the bell jar between the ears. And yet, this time, that eagerness has stopped just short of my ability to realize it…half-hearted foreplay that goes wearyingly on and on, with no conclusion in sight.
Which gives rise to (you guessed it) a question: Can a writer write deep emotion without feeling it?
Fear deserves fear. Love warrants love. If the writer can’t bond with a character closely enough to feel his deepest emotions, are we just toying with him? Can we truly create anything more evocative, more powerful than rote feelings when our lazy-ass auto-pilot is engaged? If the feeling is not there, is execution, is craft, enough?
As with most of the questions I ask here, I don’t really know the answer. And troublingly, sometimes even the satisfactory completion of the passage won’t yield an answer.
I finished the section. It is working? To a degree. Is it competent? Yes. Do I feel the terror? No. Do I feel the character’s slow surrender of hope in a situation that can have no upside? Not sure yet…but the thing is closer than it was.
After days like this one, I am glad to know that there are days-after to study, reconsider, rework. In the weary confusion of evening, it’s comforting that tomorrow offers another ride.
Fascinating. Special. And lovely in its way. The observer’s perch in a too-real world.
I don’t mind eating alone. I rather like it. My very sensual relationship with taste is often best served by a one-on-one experience rather than a ménage a trois. And there are added benefits…ones that remind me of the grace that is being a writer.
A couple sat at the table beside me in this close-in little French bistro. Clearly first-date country: the questions, the laughs, the lean-ins, the what-do-I-say-next…the art of “I’m interested.” Fascinating to observe the progress of this fledgling relationship—especially given my inexplicably less-than-stellar reception in Dating World, recently. The couple and I had some dear exchanges. They didn’t seem to mind my being so close; wasn’t a choice. As I got up to leave, the woman rose and embraced me…affection is glorious, even from a stranger, even if you’re not sure what prompted it.
The evening reminded me. Of the great gift of writerdom. Of deliberate separateness.
As we gather fruits of the human tree, we are immune to the things that sting. We share, in ways we could never express to a fellow human, the loveliness of a first encounter, of the dance of seduction, of pain and promise and joy. We celebrate awkwardness. We feel the twinge of not-quite. We watch love at its beginning and, sometimes, at its end. We do this innocently and without judgment. Apartness is a virtuous place.
Observerdom is the protection against loneliness. It takes us from isolation into the realm of Us. We do not shock. We are not disappointed. We do not fear silence. We know that there are only so many colors in life’s paintbox…but, oh, how magnificently they combine.
For the observer, life is ever full. The conversations are unpredictable. The possibilities are endless. The view is high and wide, the emotions are perfumed, the outcomes are unpredictable. We may not, except by happy accident, feel the human touch that we might long for, but the rest is glorious. This is the human universe. Welcome to the skyshow.
Accent-studded prose. Pigeon English. Yea or Nay?
If inclusion or eschewing comes down to a debate, on which side do you stand?
As usual, I boldly straddle the center line of my own question. For me, most of the time, accents and pigeon English in prose are like Mark Twain’s clarinet, the “ill woodwind that nobody blows good.” Or almost nobody.
I find accents in written form disruptive. Clunky. Pushes against the graceful flow.
Other paths to the end: not so much of a challenge for me. An odd sentence form that represents, say, a non-English speaker’s accent or a British cadence…or slang…these are acceptable to my reader-eye—especially once the device establishes itself as a character’s signature. They can be persuasive; even charming. Like any device, I suppose, the proof is in the skill with which it is executed.
But what other avenues are open to us?
Take an example from my own work. A character in progress. A street artist, Real Deal. The jazz-musician riffs and rhythms of his speech are indications that he is, as his reputation proclaims, “batshit crazy.” His circlings and repetitions and Tourette’s-like exclamations are the evidences of the unhinged nature of his mind.
Without relying on the trite executions of accents—especially in Deal’s case as an African American—we come away from the page in possession of something more and better. A seeding of a greater notion in the plot.
We realize as time goes on, that craziness is the carefully-cultivated front for what Deal calls “persona.” The device becomes even more useful and appealing when we realize that he is much saner than he lets on—in fact, saner, steadier and wiser than most of his other companions. The artful shedding of his riff-man guise reveals the truth of him under his personal veil. A subtlety even more impactful than if he had been slathered in an overwrought urban accent.
Eccentricity in dialog is, for me, far more useful and effective than the labored, open-to-personal-interpretation of accents.
And I now pass the question along to you: How do you feel about accents baked into prose? How to you deal with them? How do you exert mastery over them? To writers as we are, the questions are as interesting as the answers.