Lately I’ve been working on endings and realized that I’ve been using my talents against myself: I get to the climactic battle scenes, and I end up so excited to find out how everything wraps up that I rush through them and leave out the details that make resolving a battle so satisfying. Ack. I hate it when other writers do that: I quit reading Fables by Bill Willingham because he pulled a couple of rushed endings on me. I have a thing for endings. At any rate, I caught myself doing it more than once, and spoke sternly to myself. It’s going to take a while and a lot of practice to weed that habit out, but it’ll come.
At least, my subconscious thinks it will. It has moved on (or returned?) to character since then.
I’m working on a difficult ghostwriting project. It’s awesome, but it’s difficult: I’ve been fighting with the characters, trying to make them make sense. They haven’t been working, or at least they haven’t been working in the form that I’d given them. They feel flat sometimes, like they are only performing actions because I tell them to, not because they have a particular drive to do it. Fortunately, the client let me take a break recently, and now that I’m back, I’m seeing the characters with fresher eyes.
1) The character I thought was a bad girl isn’t. She’s a tragic figure: the one thing that makes her special is that she takes all the crappy stuff she goes through in life and turns it into art. Then, suddenly, she gets more power than she can handle and can’t control it anymore, and instead starts lashing out.
2) The character I thought was an emotionally complex adult isn’t. She has one strategy: run at it headlong and make it fall over. I was initially confused about this, because in the opening, she’s trying to be tricky (but failing miserably at it).
3) The character I thought was good and righteous–which is HARD to write as a character, because characters have to keep falling on their face somehow–is really just kind of compulsive about fixing things. When something is broken, he attempts to fix it. Sometimes he breaks things even worse in trying to fix them, and sometimes he just arrogantly decides something is broken and “fixes” it.
4) The character at the root of all this, I don’t have him. I thought I had him. I kept thinking of him as a chess player playing the longest of long games. A kind of ultimately noble character that can look good or evil, depending on how he’s currently reaching his goals. But that’s an exterior view of the character, not something I can pull on like a second skin, not something I can empathize with.
What I’m starting to suspect is that he’s driven by a fear of perfection. He admires things that are broken, yet still functional. He is perfectly willing to break something in order to make it more functional, or to otherwise achieve his goals–being broken isn’t something to be feared, but to be embraced. He’s startled by reality sneaking up on him; he doesn’t really get that he’s participating in all this; he thinks he’s above it.
In the end I think I might relate to him most of all, but it’s a struggle at the moment.
The main thing that I pulled out breaking down my character choices was that there’s a difference between seeing the choices from the inside and the outside. Which seems like a no-brainer in theory but is a bitch to sort out in practice. For example, I kept circling around #3 as “wants to make the world a better place.”
This is not an effective character choice. Because how you’re going to make the world a different place is so up to interpretation as to make the statement useless from a writer’s perspective. You can’t check where you’ve jerked the character off the rails with a statement like that, and the problem was that I kept jerking the character off the rails, and it was leading him to yawn-worthy places.
Now, to see the world from his eyes, I’ve been going, “What’s the system here?” and, when he has that figured out, “How can I fix it?” He doesn’t ask, for example, “Should it be fixed?” Nope, he just identifies the system and fixes it. If he hasn’t fixed it, he’s going to pick at it until there’s something to fix, and then he’s going to fix that. If he’s fixed it, then it’s fine. Can’t you see it’s fine? Fine.
You can a) see where this might be easier to check whether you’ve done it than “make the world a better place,” and b) create dramatic @#$%-ups, I mean, tension.
Additional work will be required. Yay! I’m learning more about writing. Boo! It’s a pain in the ass…
If you liked this blog post…consider signing up for my newsletter, which I will send out soon, or check out a free copy of the first episode of Alice’s Adventures in Underland: The Queen of Stilled Hearts. Thanks!