Monday, July 20, 2009

Where Do Your Characters Come From?

I've finally relaxed into this no-work-in-progress state, and I'm relishing the quiet with no characters babbling in my head. Time to do some serious spring cleaning - in the middle of summer! I had a pile of sewing and ironing, dustbunnies hiding everywhere, even some impressive cobwebs adding some textural interest to a couple of corners. Of course, if I don't put my glasses on, I don't even see the cobwebs. It's the same with wrinkles, so I don't put on my glasses very often. My own daughter refuses to use a magnifying mirror and shudders at the idea. What you can't see can't hurt you, I guess. Ignorance is bliss.

Come the fall I'll be getting back to serious writing, and, in preparing the seed bed for that next book, I've been wondering about my characters. Where do they come from? Are they, as most suggest, little pieces of ourselves constructed as separate personae? Is even the bitchy, unpleasant one a reflection of the less charitable aspects of ourselves? I don't write villains very well, and certainly could never write about murder, so, if the above is true, I'm obviously not digging deep enough to find that evil bit of me. If I write about a rather ditzy person, is this because it's fun to be naive and unaware some of the time, able to avoid serious analyses of world events? If one of my characters is incredibly promiscuous (lovely, old-fashioned word) is this because I long for a bit more rumpy-pumpy (really, really old-fashioned word) in my life?

The reason we must write (or paint, for that matter) is because we have something to say, want to somehow affect the world around us, to reach out to others. The most humble of us want to share our own modest views (some perhaps grander than others), our own dissemination of the craziness out there, and know that we are not alone in our beliefs, and that we are relevant. This is not an ego trip, because we writers are so often full of self-doubt. We are, quite simply, looking for connection. We feel it when we read, as well, overjoyed at recognizing ourselves in other lives, fictional or otherwise, empathizing with situations we'll probably never experience. Through all the chaos, the emotional swings in our lives, we aren't alone, and that's a huge comfort.

Even as we prefer to deal with like-minded people, we're challenged by less agreeable ideas and arguments which can open us up to a deeper awareness, even understanding. It seems to me that our fictional characters, on the whole, are facets of us with all our ideals and unexamined prejudices intact.

And so I'm about to start that search for new characters again. New identities, speech patterns, physical styles and behavioral quirks will be made up of people I know or see on the street, or from the news, but the depths of them - how they feel - must come from those bits of me I haven't explored yet.

My child wants to say a thing or two, it seems, and I've started listening for her. Harper Lee and Betty Smith both produced amazing children's voices, and I'd like to attempt that, too. Not that I'm implying that I'm in the same league, but we never know until we've tried. (Oh, as an aside, did you know that Harper Lee and Truman Capote were childhood friends? How's that for an unlikely alliance?)

I have a very old lady who wants to be heard, as well. Curmudgeonly and blatantly honest, she wants to set the record straight on many things I've been too timid to address. Perhaps my child and my old lady will be juxtaposed in a coming novel. Just an idea fluttering about, you understand.

Where do your characters come from? Are they purely fictional constructs, developed from your amazing imagination? Or, upon reflection, how much of you is in them? How many of your own values (and perhaps darkest thoughts) are exposed there?

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