Sunday, April 28, 2013

Characters and Dr. Frankenstein's Monster: Fictional Pals

With great thanks to your focus on dialogue and its uneasy relationship with conversation, your attention these recent days has been drawn to the individuals who speak the dialogue when story is alive and thriving, and who often speak the conversation when the story needs some time in the Intensive Care Unit.


You once considered characters and dialogue among your strengths as a storyteller, with plot ranking at the lower end of the curve.  Things have changed somewhat--in concept if not execution--and in ways that cause you to be less troubled about plotting because of the discoveries you've made with character and dialogue.

You often find yourself thinking of the so-called Classics and of a legendary figure from your culture of birth.  Mary Shelley's remarkable story of Dr. Frankenstein's experiments with the creation of human life forms have been a constant companion over the years, sometimes causing you a great deal of self-mockery when you'd compare your fictional creations to those of the good, or at least earnest Dr. Frankenstein.

Over the years you've had visions of laboratories and antennae to capture the energy from lightning and other undifferentiated sources, all of which seemed to suggest menace, forbidden knowledge, and a touch of alchemy.  With the possible exclusion of forbidden knowledge, all those attributions obtain with equal impact to Dr. Frankenstein's famed monster and to your character creations and to successful characters as constituted by other writers.

There is a touch of alchemy in the creation of a character and the way the subsequent he or she effects chemistry with other characters.  There is a hint of forbidden knowledge hovering about, but upon closer inspection, the knowledge is quite visible.

Character in story is the wrapping of the coil of attributes about the armature of the thematic personality of a specific character.  As robots are designed in science fiction to perform particular tasks, characters are constructed or wrapped in relationship to the forces they represent of desire, the need for the object of desire, and the relative intelligence to implement plan is to achieve their goals, get what they want.  

Even if a character is endowed with a moral compass of elaborate sophistication, the story stops dead in its tracks if what the character wants is too sophisticated and remote.  This is important because the character may say high-minded things, but they must be understandable by the reader.  Speaking of the reader, they want some hint of why the characters want what they do.  And speaking of the character speaking, much of what the character wants is transmitted to a tangible degree in the dialogue attributed to that character.

We humans are similar to characters in about the same way an ordinary mixed-breed dog is similar to a hound such as a bloodhound or blue tick.  Some similarities exist in both species, but the character and the blood hound are clearly more focused, more apt to be motivated by some single issue psychological issue than their human counterparts.

The character is a complex bundle of abilities, apprehensions, weaknesses, and desires.  The character's goals are immediate and pressing.  As the case with so many so-called child prodigies, early, notable ability or abilities are not without its or their consequences, such as an outer layer at least of mature judgment and a more generalized education.  The prodigy is bright, sometimes to the edges of naivete.  Even when portrayed as inchoate or inner-directed, such individuals often solve difficult problems with ease while remaining failures at the more simple social matters you confront.

You used to think characters' quirks and notions could be explained, described, and demonstrated.  How comforting for you to know you no longer believe this.  Characters quirks and notions come to true life by being acted.

The way characters speak to one another has an effect on the reader who seeks to enter their world and then describe their motives.  Characters who are too willing to "tell all" are objects of suspicion because they cause us to question the writer's motives rather than the motives of the characters.

The legend from your culture of birth is of The Golem, a figure who emerged in a number of tight historical spots, the most notable one in Prague, where an epidemic of anti-Semitism was directed around the Jewish community.  An heroic figure was made from clay, then empowered with the actual name of God, written on a small parchment, then placed in the creature's ear.  The creature came to life, protected its creators for a time, then was decommissioned by removing the scroll.  There are other legendary accounts of human-like and animal-like beings who were created for a single purpose.

Both these types creep into your awareness at the outset of composing a character.  You wish them to seem as real and convincing as possible, but where you once thought that "real and convincing" set of attributions meant as multifarious as actual persons, you now think to throw out the details and backstory irrelevant to the heart-wrenching issues of the story immediately before us.

Everything the characters say should be in effect like the magnifying lenses you used to find, to your great delight, in the occasional box of Cracker Jacks that passed through your hands.  Dialogue should focus the story to the point where it could well ignite some bit of story, then send it steaming for a moment before bursting into flame.

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