Sunday, April 13, 2014

Character, Or Who Are You Really?

Character is the original reason I started this blog. I was writing a character that was younger than me (oh, by about 35 years) and I was having trouble with her "voice" - the way she talked and what she said. But also I needed to develop who she was. What were her vices and ethics, what color was the lens through which she saw the world?

Margaret is kind of, sort of, me, with a completely different life. That's the fun of writing. I like to think that I have good character - whatever that is - but it doesn't allow the protagonist to learn anything if you start them out with good character. What is this "good" we ascribe to people (even fictional people) and what is this "bad?" Ah, that is the craft of writing.

In real life, we don't meet one dimensional people - good or bad. I'm loving House of Cards because the writing shows both. Bad people who occasionally do good things - or do they have an ulterior motive and it's not really a good thing at all? Fabulous writing.

For most of my life, I've been kind of the goody two shoes. Oh, I've screwed up royally at times, but I'm certainly not the alcoholic, depressed genius some famous writers have been. Maybe the genius part. Does that condemn me to mediocrity? I think I can use the bad times in my life to dredge up stories of pain and loss. I really don't want to only write about pain and loss. It is the tendency now in the literary journals and the MFA (Master of Fine Arts) programs to spill your guts and let everyone walk all over them.

I can do it, but I think so many people have been doing it that it's just not interesting anymore. Reality TV. Trainwreck central. Enough said. I would rather write stories that show the good in people. To show when the character learns a lesson through hard work and that lesson isn't that the world will rip off your head and shit down your neck. Sorry, had a reality moment there.

My latest story that is currently sent out to a few publishers is a quiet, meditative piece on how the things that happen in your life don't necessarily steer your life. You can be better than your trauma. I recently got a very nice rejection letter that said in part "Over all the story was very quiet in nature, and honestly I prefer those types of stories. I think the market for the quiet, reflective pieces is pretty small. Good luck, I think this piece is publishable, you just have to look for a good match."

Hmmm. Yes, you must know your audience - in any business. Yes, I understand that the trend is toward in-your-face action and drama. Do I want to change what I write so that I can be published, or do I want to write what I want to write? I haven't decided yet.

And that decision is indicative of character. Not the outcome of the decision, but how I come to the decision and that I write for the right reasons. I may never get published. I'm okay with that. In the years I've been writing, my motivation has changed from recognition to producing the best art for art's sake. Does that component of my character make me better? Decidedly no. But people struggle with those types of questions - one's in which there is no right answer - and I fear our society and the technology of today inhibits people from figuring things out from the basis of who they are.

I would like to write about people who know who they are. Or who find out through good and not torture. Not who did what to whom, but why they did those things and what they learned from them: Characters being true to themselves and righting the ship when they've gone off course. I don't know how far it will get me, but it will be in character.



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