Thursday, November 19, 2009

Being Brave

The novel I am writing, Road Clothes, has a main character that is the most not-me of anything I've written to date. If you are a writer, writing variants of yourself is common, though not mandatory, and I found it works as a way to learn to write character. Start with what you know.

This girl, Cassidy, is not intentionally like me at all, nor is she the antithesis. I gave her things to do that I have done, but her qualities are not meant to be a version of me. It is turning out to be harder than I thought.

The blatant dissimilarities are:

She is 25, I am . . . not.
She is auburn haired, fair skinned, I am . . . not.
She has snappy comebacks . . . I realize two days later the thing I should have said.

(Writing is cool for making retorts be just the way you imagined them. It gives me great selfish pleasure.)

Her ideas about love and family and truth are not necessarily mine. She is a younger generation and thinks differently due to the experience and influences on her life being something I've only watched in others. It makes me wonder if I'm getting it right. Is she congruent and believable despite her made-up-ness?

So, it has made me think a lot about how generations view each other. Do I really understand, given the environment she grew up in, her motivations for action? Or will someone that age read her with the knowledge that an older author wrote it? Only time and 27 revisions will tell.

But, I'm working hard to get it right. I have friends her age and I have always been an observer of people. Even if I cannot have empathy for someone and agree with what they think or feel, or how they see a situation, I usually know what they are after when certain behaviors show. And I think writing from the point of observation lets me simply write the characteristics and let them drive the actions of the story.

My stories are not usually about happening, but about character. I spend most of my writer-thinking-time (sort of like nap-time in kindergarten), on their desires and motivations to bring about a logical story. Something that elicits their best, their worst, and allows the reader to see someone familiar in there.

This isn't to say I don't try to have a good story too. I see it as a picture and a frame. For me, the character is the picture, the story is the frame in which that character finds himself. Most frames and pictures are interchangeable, and either can stand somewhat without the other. But often there is that one combination that looks and feels best.

Unfortunately, in the current times we live in, we have the luxury of choice: too much choice. I'm one of those people who would like 3 or 4 choices and leave it at that. Same goes for stories. I have been too dependent on similar characters and stories, the frames and pictures all have a certain style. So, this time I'm trying to be brave, do something different. Every once in a while, you have to put the Picasso in a plain wooden frame.


Jo Taylor

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