Sunday, May 19, 2013

People: Characters with Protective Coatings

There are two classes of individuals you're aware of, real persons and characters.  Many characters seem realer to you than real people do.  Some of this has to do with the fact that characters are less insulated than real people, they're meant to be known on some primal level, even if their part in the story tends to be mysterious and devious.

Real people are more wrapped in goals, defenses, and protective coating, many of which relate to their survival but not to a particular story in which they happen to be involved.  Real persons, you included, tend to be juggling stories.  Characters have fewer plates to juggle, fewer stories.  You've become used to editing out distractions in story, but you cannot always edit out distractions in real life.

On occasion, you try to schedule your distractions, thus there are times for classes, time for editing, and time for writing.  But writing has grown more insistent, wanting more from you.  For instance, it wants you to read more, to spend more time practicing, even beyond the practicing this blog site is in terms of practice.  Writing wants you to do the equivalent of the Western gambler, shuffling the cards, manipulating the deck, dealing yourself hands, figuring the odds on the possibilities remaining in the deck.  This is not the sort of thing you have a memory for.  You remember persons from real life and you remember persons from stories you've read and stories you've written.

Back when you first read Mario Vargas Llosa's Aunt Julia and the Script Writer, you felt a tingle of familiarity because, as the script writer did in the novel, you were doing a number of things simultaneously, trying to gain strength in a number of differing media, trying to finish things dearest your heart, sometimes seeming to forget who went where, which character belonged to which story.  Those times were too much like real life to allow you the ease to take the risks needed to develop the strengths you needed.

Small wonder you have just put Aunt Julia and the Script Writer on a reading list for a course you hope to give at the University either this Fall or in the Spring Quarter.  You want to somehow transfer the tingle of association to students you don't yet know, young men and women who need to be put in danger of having writing want more of them than they have time to give.

Until recent years, you always wanted things from it.  Now the tables are turned and it wants things from you, making it clear that it has carried you, but now comes time for payback.  You're asked to read with more care, write with more care, practice numerous exercises when you're out and about.  You're asked to take more notes, spend more time putting together backgrounds for characters who may have only the briefest appearance, write alternate appearances than the ones you've planned for them, all the time watching their responses.

You're required to find new ways to turn up the heat on each and every one of your characters.  You're asked to make lists of characters you can recall who seem more alive and motivated than persons you know from real life.

A character is a real person, edited down to pure, mean agenda and a dark side that wants results now.  No long, leisurely post-doctoral research grants.  Rather, a crash course, an immersion in research that is a product of writing and reading and thinking, not the way you think but the way a writer thinks.

A real person wishes to be more like a character, caught up in the fast lane, but there are all these distractions to be dealt with.  Characters remind you of two visiting young classical musicians you overheard poolside when you were a member of the Montecito Y.  They were in their late twenties or early thirties, man and woman.  They'd been in a series at the Music Academy and an additional performance at the Arlington Theater with a major visiting Symphony, conducted by a major conductor.  They sounded like kids, talking about the fact that they'd soon have enough money to live in Europe and hire a financial advisor.  Characters are overpowered by something springing from a desire or an ability they've disciplined but not controlled.

In Hamlet, the young price at one point says, "Thus conscience doth make cowards of us all."  In its way, writing makes characters of us all.  We are driven by some portions of our calling and have spent so much time at achieving any measure at all of the craft that we are in effect stunted in emotional growth, struggling to catch up with the adult world about us, regardless of our chronological age.

You'd think being a teen-ager once would be enough.

You'd think that, but you'd be a writer thinking it instead of an adult, say an adult who works as teacher or editor.

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