Tuesday, August 12, 2008

ISO a Character w/hang-ups, Prefer Willing Work Nights

Since it has long been established that plotting is not one of your strengths, it has become necessary for yo to resort to other methods to come at characters, getting a sense of the thing it is they need in order to make them not only in a story but of a story. There is a list of questions you can ask them, hopeful of insightful information from them, questions such as What is it you want? This is often asked as though you could expect a reliable answer from the individual, as though you could have any kind of luck asking a person in real life what that person wants. As though they would consider you some Studs Terkel surrogate, confessing their innermost secrets to you.

No way around it, you goal is to get something on that character, something you can and will use, opening you to the charge of exploitation. Shelly is exploiting his characters. Too true, he is. and he will exploit more if he gets the opportunity. So why then should they give him the opportunity?

This is a salient reason for his enjoyment of the crime novel and the police procedural. He identifies with the private eye particularly, because the PI has to detect, to find things about his clients and their opponents, things that can be used to construct cases.

Early in his career, when writing crossed tracks with editing and he had already experienced the benefits of having a mentor, another came his way, a mystery and crime writer he'd greatly admired, an now she was talking to him about ways to make mystery pay off even though he could not plot. You look, she told him, for the missing part of every character, she told him. For some time, he went about looking for missing parts and sure enough that caused him to realize characters were not going to give up their secrets without a struggle. Dorothy took him one step beyond, to the inner meetings of The Mystery Writers of America, where he quickly discovered that one way to get characters to tell him what they wanted was by having snitches.

At about this time, one of his oldest friends, a chum from undergraduate days, had grown tired of near misses with his writing fiction, had talked his way into work as a technical writer, spent just enough time at that to grow terminally bored, then fling himself into law school, where upon Shelly ultimately found three additional friends who'd made the discovery many lawyers make My clients lie to me.

This is all about the fiction he has to indulge in order to get his characters to let him in on what will drive the story forward. He is at this very moment interviewing a character who has presented herself to him in the most pleasant and interesting way. Atmosphere, attitude, and splendid relevant details are checking in in at the boarding gate. There are notes beginning to collect in Moleskines and on napkins and index cards. He knows she is a graduate student, he knows she has a daemon or familiar named Ed who is bi-polar ad needs his meds. He knows that the chairman of the department his graduate student is a teaching assistant for has a daemon named Captain Spaulding, who frequently affects greasepaint eyebrows. He even knows that this graduate student, he thinks her name is Nicole, has discovered that another person with her name has already published a thesis, the problem being she is living in an alternate universe. He already knows that his protagonist is way too nice, but he knows even more that there is no serious risk yet and thus no tangible plot, so here he is in a sense, doing what he has done many times in the past as a holdover from his days with The Mystery Writers of America, when he took trips to the line-up at The Parker Center in Los Angeles, even appeared in a few line-ups himself for other persons to muddle over.

He is looking for snitches, people who may reveal things about Nicole that he does not yet know. This leads to another problem. Snitches are not always reliable. Given the number of schools and institutions with writing programs, snitches would be the first to minimize the background or grittiness of a character, wanting to keep that character for their own private use.

This is what he has to go through whenever the details and intrigues of a story start to make themselves apparent to him, and what he has to do next in order to get the momentum established.

1 comment:

Querulous Squirrel said...

Interesting to read your character-development process. Didn't Flannery O'Connor say all fiction should be character-driven? But I suppose with mysteries you just can't get away from plot. The more I read about being a writer, the more I think I'm not one, but I'm fine with that. I still love to read about the process from the point of view of intriguing characters like yourself.