Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Shouting Down Your Characters

Politeness, which is to say the conventions of considerate behavior among individuals, requires us to listen as well as to speak in response or to initiate.  Nice going in theory and, if you choose you associates with care, in practice as well.

How easy it is, sometimes in the flush of excited conversation or the drama of a particular moment, to metaphorically seize the microphone, then talk over the lesser voices and the stilled voices, filling the room with your bombast.  The point needs to be made, for you as well as clients whose work you edit, and for students into whose hands you are committed to deliver some semblance of technique.  The necessary point is, of course, the frequency with which you join brother and sister writers in taking over the stage from the characters, using your own passionate arguments and predilections to drown out the character.

Each character who sets foot on whatever stage you create should not sound like you, should in fact sound like herself or himself, should have the vocabulary, attitudes, and personalities consistent with the character in question.  Not you.  Not bloody you.  The time for such things is long past, both culturally and historically.

And yet.

You and how many others like you become so intoxicated by the cat nip quality of your own way with words that you often see fit to portray characters, decent (or indecent), hardworking (or relative idlers) individuals as though they were merely iterations of you?  Imagine being at a meal or other social gathering in which you were confronted with clones, mere iterations of your own rambunctious self.  You would be hard put to get the attention of anyone who might pass the olive oil and balsamic vinegar down this way in order to concoct some dipping oil for your

And you wonder with some bitterness at times about the rejection notes, particularly when the story seems so spot on.

Drowning your own characters out with your own voice and purpose constitutes two flagrant crimes against effective composition.  They are not supposed to sound like you.  Anyone who encounters them should be properly impressed that you know such complex individuals and that they actually choose to confide in you, and if you were not so given to the fustian waving of arms and diacritic marks, the readers might have a chance to do just that.

Why the fuck do you think so many readers are disappointed when they meet their favorite writers in person?  It is because these individuals pretend to crave privacy and the freedom to indulge their inner voices but in a nasty subtext really want to let you know how wonderful they are, to share their wonderfulness with you, so that you will, by God, remember what it was like to be near them however briefly.

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