Tuesday, December 15, 2009

For Love of the Character

Perhaps it is a bit early in the relationship for me to be this brutally honest, but oh well. I'm going to be anyway.

Writing, for all that I love it, is an absolute pain.

World building, editing, the actual fact of writing; it all congeals into this mess that's part mud (the boggy kind that smells) and part quicksand, pulling you down into a slow, putrid death you can't escape. And that's not even mentioning the characters.

Characters are, for me, simultaneously the best and worst part of writing. Neurotic and heroic and villainous and bi-polar, sweet, laid-back, uptight, strange, aloof, way way too forward, all clamoring about in your head, each with their own peculiar vocabulary. Have you ever noticed that? There are some words you can use with certain characters and not with others. Silly words, inconsequential words that aren't descriptive or part of dialog. Words that shouldn't even matter, but when you're with that particular character they just won't work. Anyway.

In my opinion there are two types of characters.

Type one: Characters that are intrinsically themselves. Characters that just are. If you write you know these characters. They wouldn't let you not know them. These characters pop into your head or, sometimes, straight onto the page with all the force of a typhoon. And once there are about as moveable as a boulder. They won't be quiet, they won't wait their turn, they won't leave you alone and once you finally give in and write them (as you inevitably will) they won't cooperate! Whatever you want is irrelevant. They are going to do what they want to do when they want to do it. A subspecies of this type is the side character who stays nice and biddable until they see their chance to up and shanghai the whole story. Good luck getting it back. In either case, you don't get a say. At that point you become less a story teller and more a conduit for their voice.

It's exhilarating.

And irritating as hell.

Type two: Characters that are intrinsically yours. These characters are a labor, of love or otherwise. Elusive, difficult and never quite right; writing them I'm in a constant state of wanting to tear my hair out. They won't cooperate either but not because they're loud and stubborn. They're just so quiet. It would be nice if once and awhile they would shout at you. But they won't. Because they're yours. Yours to hone and to craft; lovingly, delicately. Or, sometimes with a jackhammer.
These are the characters I wind up loving the most. Type Ones are exciting and so much fun, even when they're being annoying. But Type Twos are almost never fun. They're always work, to one degree or another. But because of that, you come to know them inside at out. They have a tendency to pull everything out of you and don't bother to put it back where they found it. These characters, I think, are the ones that make you a better writer.

I love my characters. Even when I hate them. Sometimes I'm writing just as much for the characters as I am for myself. I'm writing because I feel that they deserve to be written. I'm striving to be a better writer because I feel that they deserve a better writer.



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