Tag Archives: characters

Writing the victim

Victim_role-300x239I’m battling with my story characters. They have spent a long time not dealing with things, and as such have made themselves victims. The family is destroyed, the relationships between members are severed, and at least one child is severely harmed, and all because the family jointly determined they were victims and pulled the horribleness into bed with them.

It’s not that I don’t sympathize. God knows I’ve been a sucky victimish-assuming type now and again. But it’s hard for me to get into the let’s not deal with things until they destroy ourselves mindset.

Nope, I’m more active. I push at things until disaster hits me full in the face. Why wait, I figure? Why not bring it right on immediately, and devil take the hindmost if other people aren’t ready to take it on at the same time…

Not that that’s any better, mind. In fact, it’s often worse. But it’s where my bull-in-a-china-shop mind takes me. So dealing with my more passive characters is a challenge. And it’s very instructive. The more I write them, the more I find it hard to write them.

In amongst this, I find myself less tolerant of victims in general.

Writing is SUCH a fascinating work. In the midst of this story, which I started writing because I was feeling victimized myself, I discover an intolerance I thought I didn’t have. And it’s making it hard to identify with my characters.

So what this tells me is that I’ve got to find additional depth in the characters I’ve written. It’s like finding that one good thing in an evil character that redeems him or her, makes the character believable and even likeable. I’ve got to find that strength in my characters that makes me like them, challenged as they are. Because we all do have that strength, the strength to choose the life we want.

Yeah, sometimes we get kicked to the curb, by circumstance, by illness, by lack of resources – but we can control the way we face those challenges. We can stop pulling that comfy blanket of denial and other-blame over our heads and step out into the chill, shake our arms and stomp our feet, and take steps in the direction we want to go. If nothing else, we can change our attitude to the life we are leading and make a positive corner in it.

We may never get to our goals, but we for sure won’t get there by blaming others for our shortcomings or bad choices. At least if we’re walking on our own, we know why we are taking small crooked steps.

Or, in the case of my characters, we can take responsibility for what we didn’t do, and make amends.

Sigh. So back I go….


Missing writing…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI’ve been taking a holiday from writing of late. It all started with my knee surgery and recovery – then my life was so focused on pain management (knee replacements are not for the shy of pain, and two at once made it quite an intensive focus for a time) and then the resultant MS flare-up afterwards that I couldn’t think in a straight line. Everything was pointed toward getting my knees better.

I’ve missed writing. I haven’t been able to do it, and it is like a missing tooth, an empty space that my tongue goes to again and again. But trying to pull words out of my head via my increasingly untrustworthy fingers was impossible.

But I long for it. I went to New York City, feasted my eyes on characters who wanted a story, from the sad Italian guard at St. Patrick’s with the too long pants, to the bejewelled lady on the bus who insisted I “must” go to the Frick, to the surly waiter at McSorley’s who shouted “It’s your lucky day!” Everywhere I went, I spoke to people, driving my travel companion mad, no doubt. But everyone had a story, or conjured up stories in my head. Even the sculptures in the Met spoke to me, told me of the lives of the sculptors or the models, murmured tales of strength and suffering.

All inspiring, but my longing for writing hit me when I got back from my trip and ran flat against tragedy. Horrible, gut-wrenching tragedy of a life gone awry, of people damaged beyond belief through the great evil of one man and the world around them. World damaging disasters that crushed many in their wake hit, too, wars, poverty, despair.

You see, in a story writ by me, I can create the characters. I can make them flawed and I can make them suffer. I can wreak revenge. I can offer hope. For better or worse, my characters often misbehave and I have to adjust the story to fit that bit of personality or experience they kept hidden from me. But overall, if I find the situation unbearable, I can “bearable” it. I can add heroism in tales of darkness. Or I can toss the story in a bin, let it go without a backward glance.

In life, though, we have no control over the narrative. We watch other’s stories, feel their pain, are inadequate to the task of changing anything. We can rewrite our own story, yes, but bits of the past are left sticking out like burrs or sticky left-over pieces of chewed gum  clinging to our hair. We toss our heads in the breeze, feeling our thoughts blow away, only to find our hands are enwebbed in our hair, trapped.

George Grey Barnard Je sens deux hommes en moi

George Grey Barnard
Je sens deux hommes en moi

So when I meet tragedy (and oh golly there’s a lot of it these days), I yearn for the comfort and safety of the page, where I can step safely into a pretend world, either by reading it or writing it. That world can be stopped as easily as closing the computer or shutting the cover of the book. Would that we could stop real tragedies so easily.

#3Daynovel: day one

So yesterday I had come up with all the reasons why I wanted to spend yet another glorious Labour Day weekend hunched over a computer trying to wrench words out of my head.

Perhaps it will rain, I reasoned. Maybe it will be cold and grey and I won’t feel like I’m missing the last few hours of summer.

Nope. It’s spectacular out there today – sun shining, pooffy little white clouds making the sky look EVEN BLUER, cool breeze but still summery.

And here I sit, bum going numb, brain freezing, 5000+ words of drivel written so far.

It’s still at the give up point. I could stop anytime. And yet, it’s that freedom to stop that pushes me forward, makes me want to complete it once again. By this time tomorrow, I no doubt will have decided that it makes more sense to work on existing projects than waste time grinding out what may be utter junk. I always do around then. I ignore myself and plunge on.

Or I may hit that sweet spot, that bit where your characters take over and you are dying to see what happens to them as you throw obstacles in their way.

And that is why I do this, again and again. That feeling is the best one out there in writing, for me (well, except getting paid, or winning a prize or whatever). No, it’s even bigger than those, because at that mystical time, you know, you know for sure and certain, that you are blessed.

Like the musician playing or singing the perfect note, like the artist with that perfect paint stroke, you are in the creative zone. And there just ain’t any better place to be.

Writing my life, or why is it no one speaks to me anymore?

I’m having challenges lately.  You see, it’s coming up to 3-Day Novel time and I haven’t the slightest whisper of a plot line, and yet, come Labour Day weekend, I have to churn out a sizeable novel of 120 pages or so and it has to be a complete story and all that and also slightly lucid and coherent.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the 3 Day challenge, and I love the permission and command to do nothing but write for three days solid. It’s gleeful, it gets fun, and always in some part of the writing my characters start to misbehave and shoot innocent bystanders or have rambunctious sex or lose their minds or plunge to the depths of despair. (usually at the same time I do). It’s about the most fun you can have while sober, or drunk, or hepped up on caffeine.  I recommend it highly, and on occasion it has resulted in workable manuscripts that I’ve floated in novella contests.

The tough part is that, when writing true, I marshall events from my life, from the lives I observe around me, from what I see when I perch at a coffee shop watching others interact.  It’s tough cos some of my ideas are reflected in my blog writings and people see themselves in them. I try to be fair and kind to the people who get mentioned in the blog, but over a three day novel process, well, everything breaks loose and my brain is not responsible for what it cranks out. I deny responsibility.

Of course, the good thing is, the likelihood of a three day novel being published without severe editing is scant.  In fact, the chance of winning the contest is pretty scant.  I still have to make the short list, though I came closest last year when I wrote “true”, when I wrote about something close to my heart, when I ended up purging parts of myself with the writing.

Other years when I’ve tried, I had full-blown characters by this point, and a vague idea of a story. They were silly stories, with crazy characters and foolish adventures and they were a hoot to write, but probably not very good. Often the winners of the 3 daynovel contest write odd things, and so I figured I’d try odd and go from there. Odd is easy when you are hepped up on caffeine and very little sleep and you’ve been hanging with your characters and no other humans for days.

This year, I’m stuck.  I had an idea, but can’t do that one – not wise enough.  I am reading about rats, who are fascinating creatures, but I don’t know if I want to spend 3 days with them in close proximity.

I have another idea, one closer to the heart, but it’s not ready.  My character has stepped out and spoken to me, but I don’t know her well enough yet to write about her.  She’s wandering about in my head, picking up little ideas, turning them over, placing them back tidily where they were, like she is cruising through a gifte shoppe in some little touristy town.

I need her to get serious, reveal herself to me, share with me her sorrows and joys. Some of those will seem like similar sorrows and joys of friends, family, acquaintances. Writers steal.  They listen to you and then part of what you say becomes part of them, becomes part of the characters they create.  They don’t steal all of you, just a smidgen, and then they stick it to parts of other people so that it’s not really you they are writing about, it’s a conglomerate of people all of whom have one thing or another that fits the character.

But sometimes it can seem like too much of a person is stolen. I do apologize if I’ve done that in this space. Rest assured it’s not you about whom I speak, and that there is fiction in this blog as everywhere. It’s not intentional if you feel like I’ve done a sketch of your heart and mind.  After all, I don’t know your innermost thoughts. My character’s thoughts , I will know, when she gets ready to share them with me.

Which I wish she would.  The weekend is creeping closer!