Wednesday, February 17, 2010

It's 11 o'clock. Do your characters know where you are?

Once you begin asking questions of your characters, probing their identity, goals, and artfully concealed agendas, they will meet your gaze of enquiry head on, eye contact assured, then proceed to lie their way out of your scrutiny, wanting to go forth undetected. It is not only you they are retreating from; they rarely appreciate the greater knowledge of what they are about.


You, for your own part in the equation of creator-character, understand their plight, perhaps sympathize and, ultimately, empathize. Too much awareness of a sudden is a burden for them as well as for you. In some demonstration of transcendentalism, they seem to know they are entitled to at least disability parking passes in your stories. And you? You are also aware that you download your own concerns, fears, fantasies on their shoulders as a means of keeping you from exposing too much of yourself all at once.

Scientists working in labs have the stress mouse, an otherwise healthy, functional rodent who has been injected with some extraordinary ingredient, say cancer, or surgically altered from the norm to provide a particular behavior. You have characters whom you alter or inject before observing within the landscape of a controlled experiment. Here is Fred; you have made him a kleptomaniac to see how he behaves. Your goal, you reassure yourself, is to compile a record of your time, which extends roughly from the moment you approached Mrs. DeAngelo, your fourth grade teacher, after she had in desperation read to the class on a rainy, recess-abridged afternoon, the first chapter of Huckleberry Finn, asking her if a person could actually make a living by writing such stories, to the moment at hand wherein you write this. Of course the parameters also include any additional time you manage to eke out of the System.

Questions for you and your characters:

You, first: Is your true purpose really to compile a record of your time on this planet?

Now, for them: Are you really where you want to be? Is there some other specific or as yet unarticulated other place you'd rather be than where you are at the moment?

If the locale is specific and you would rather be elsewhere, what chemistry about it draws you there, makes you feel you'd be happy there, perhaps even happier than you are now? Doesn't this trope open wide a door you barely allow to open more than a mere crack lest you expose yourself?

Suppose the place your characters would rather be is situational rather than geographic, such as married as opposed to not married or in a relationship with someone as opposed to merely wishing to be in a relationship with that person, or being a journalist rather than being a teacher and yes, being a teacher rather than being a journalist?

It is a great mountain goat leap, but what about merely wanting some quiet pied a terre wherein you could write without interruption as opposed to having to write amidst family clamor or the cross-currents of conversation at Peet's? True enough, there is focus when you are "in" a story or idea or even when you are reading the work of another. But you have to ask yourself if there isn't some unarticulated help in having the "other" choice seem such a lure that it transports you from what and whom and where you are to the "place" where you are creator without explanation.


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