Monday, October 02, 2006

What a Character!

More repostings.
Good Guys, Bad Guys, and the Merely Misunderstood

My WIR involves antagonists more than villains in the traditional black hat baddie mode. My antagonists are uh, like the people in government now who are convinced they have the answers and try to impose their solutions on others, even break some laws and kill if it furthers their cause which of course is for their perceived greater good. That interests me.

In the spy stories, we get to write pure sadists, sociopaths, and psychopaths who are a great deal of fun to play with.

And yes, it is amazing what people will do to avoid admitting they're wrong. I'm thinkin a particular current administration, for one.

In both cases, though, I like writing them and when I get good ones, I find ways to keep them around for a while. Heroes are harder for me to write. I write screwed up good guys who end up doing the right, aka heroic thing. Which is why Grisha in the WIR has been so hard for me. He's screwed up, but he's been trying to do the right, heroic thing all along. I'm not used to working with that mindset. Maybe it's just me, but I find villains, antagonists, and screwed up protags easier to write. They have nice, messy agendas. ;)
Re: Suffering and Cute Characters

Of course, cute is in the eye of the beholder. When I was 11, "Illya" was cute and therefore, the character on Man From UNCLE I focused on. When I was hit my 30s, Robert Vaughn's handsomeness started to give David McCallum's cuteness a run for its money, and I started appreciating Napoleon Solo in a way I never had previously.

It has long been known in fan fic circles that the angst factor, the hurt/comfort factor, drives a lot of fanac, aka fan activity re: viewing and writing.

We want to comfort the ones we love and before we can comfort them, they need to be hurt or otherwise in need of comforting. As viewers, someone else has to do that for us and we can comfort only vicariously through another character on scene, preferably the buddy (boo hiss to girlfriend / boyfriend characters because that's the role we want). As writers, we get to do it ourselves, which explains a lot of the Mary Sue phenomenon: She's Us and aside from being perfect, she gets the lust/angst character. She's our wish fulfillment.

Lee Child has been "accused" and I certainly agree, of having his Jack Reacher character, a man who is so anti-social and in many ways, unappealing (to me, having read one of the books in that series) attracting sexually appealing female characters who seem to find him just the greatest thing since sliced bread. Wish fulfillment in the pro book market.

That science is catching up (and that research re: babies and cuteness is not new, the need to evolve the urge to nurture young and helpless of the species will help ensure survival) is no surprise.

I have to wonder, though, about changing and varying tastes. We humans aren't as simple creatures as we used to be back when we were first evolving. And a lot of research into what attracts males and females to each other re: what qualities would make a good mate (at least long enough to create and nurture strong offspring) has been going on, from how easily looks can turn the head of the opposite sex (think peacock) to strength to fight off predators, from features that we've come to associate rightly or wrongly to intelligence to the more modern economical factors that mean someone will be able to provide for the care of a child, either by being able to bring home a wooly mammoth to live off for a year or a good stock portfolio and pension plan.

But back to writing. I think that I cast my main characters to up the angst factor for myself, which makes it easier to write, not just for the descriptions which I suck at, but for the emotional attachment the faces help foster. Even for the villains. I know it makes the stories more like TV shows and I'm visually oriented. I don't visualize well, so I need that element provided for me. I gravitate toward visual media. I am a great lover of books, but my first reading love was comics in comic book and comic strip form.

But not any old face will do. Even the antagonist has to be an actor I like, whose face appeals to me on some level. Which is why, in my WIR, one of the antagonists looks like yummy Jimmy Smits. For the on-hold Mars book that Deb and I first started writing, my main character is the guy in the icon. He appealed to me on a gut level the first time I saw him, in the movie "Simon," back in 1980 or so. Of course, I didn't really learn who he was until The Equalizer, but that's another story. He's been the "star" of much of my writing for a long time. The protag in the WIR looks like Michael Shanks. And so it goes.

And when it comes to adult characters, these aren't just faces I would want to comfort and nurture. They're folks I'd want to have sex with (I'm trying to not be too blunt here). Anyone who doesn't see the lust factor in what a lot if not most people put into their writing, especially fan fic, is either oblivious or in denial. IMO, of course.

Also, this:

Maud Newton had an interesting excerpt from a recent article by John Lanchester in the New York Review of Books about J.M. Coetzee's feelings re: using authorial characters in his works. Coetzee's latest novel features a writer.
"It is more, perhaps, a question of ethics, touching on the morality of making people up, and then devising trials and torments for them, designed to expose and test their deficiencies. Is there anything of ethical content to be said about the fortunes of these imaginary people? Does making things up have an effect on the maker, and on the reader?"
and this:
"A cartoon version of this would be to say that Coetzee has moved from a concern about human beings to a concern about animal beings to a concern about fictional beings. A reader who has followed Coetzee’s books since Disgrace, and followed the thread of ethical inquiry that runs through them, might pose Slow Man’s central question differently: Why should we care about fictional characters when the world is so full of real suffering?"
I've certainly written my fair share of angst for my characters, especially in my fan fiction, both mental and physical suffering. And I certainly feel as if my characters, the ones who are the protagonists and main characters, and especially those who appear in more than one story, to be real in a sense, even if they dwell only in my head and on paper or in pixels. And I hope they feel real to the people who read about them. But perhaps Coetzee is being too hard on himself. Writers do have power. They can entertain. They can make people feel something. They can make them think. And they can make them perhaps consider something they never have before. Maybe even feel something about the real people who are suffering what the fictional ones suffer.

A writer's skill influences how well they can do this. As a reader, I don't want to feel my emotions have been manipulated (the same is true for when I view movies). I want to believe those characters are real. And while I prefer happy endings for the catharsis after the suffering, I have no problems with reading something sad or tragic. I'm a crier. And that can be cathartic, too. But the characters aren't real in that they don't exist beyond the page except in memory. They don't physically feel the pain we inflict on them or are witness to. They don't really suffer.

But there are some readers who do suffer when they read things, which is why I can see the usefulness of warning labels yet don't want my enjoyment of such books to be spoiled by knowing heavy angst is coming, or worse, that the book ends sadly. For people who need to know so they can avoid such books, perhaps they need to read only recommendations or books reviewed to their liking. I don't know.

And when I write, I don't suffer with the characters the way I do when I read. Possibly because in my backbrain, I know the outcome. And perhaps because there's comfort in knowing the characters exist only due to my having created them and the suffering isn't real on a physical level. But I am wondering now about the emotional connection between character and reader. The ability to move someone can be a double-edged sword. Something to keep in mind.
Character Bios

Do we write detailed bios that cover every possible detail or as much as we can think of ahead of time, then fill in as we write? (Okay, I do this, but the bio isn't all that detailed.)

Do we just start writing and let the characters develop in the writing? (I do this to some extent, but I start with the mini-bios. However, often the mini-bios mutate as I write the characters and learn new things about them and/or things that contradict the bios. It's the bios that get revised, not the scenes.)

Do we (and this was the exercise, folks) put the characters in a situation they wouldn't find themselves in in the WIP and write their reactions?

The What Iffers who did this found it useful. I can't fathom it. I can't write a character in an alien situation because I don't know them well enough (the opposite of the intent of the exercise as a learning device) to write them there. I have to write them in their own lives so I can learn how they react, think, etc. Then, I can stick them pretty much anywhere and I'll know what they'll do.

If you met me in a situation alien to me, you'll learn how I react in such cases, but that won't tell you what I'm like otherwise. It won't tell you what I'm like on my job or at home. It won't tell you how I conduct myself as I go about living my life. I freeze up in alien situations. I'm relaxed otherwise. My thoughts in alien situations revolve around "Oh, shit," and "I gotta get out of here," unless I can somehow manage to find a way to enjoy myself, usually with some help. My thoughts in situations that are part of my life are entirely different, though "I gotta get out of here" does occur at times. heh.
Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind: Create your own Serial Killer Novel

This was fun enough and writing oriented, so figured it was worth mentioning here.

An excerpt:

"Here is a sample of the contents:


KILLER'S PATHETIC BACKGROUND (choose all that apply):

__ skinny and unloved
__ fat and unloved
__ handsome and unloved
__ ugly and unloved
__ other children made fun of his Little Lord Fauntleroy suit, deforming
him for life
__ a woman with big boobs stepped on his foot, deforming him for life
__ cat pissed on his head while in the crib, deforming him for life"

Just remember, it's what you do with these basics that counts. heh

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