*No, I didn’t forget Witchfinder, but this has turned into “one of those weeks” and we’re beset with errands. I will post it later this afternoon. Meanwhile our very own BS McGlasson…. er… I mean Scott… startled me two weeks ago with a question ‘does creating a character often give you an inferiority complex’. As I couldn’t say that it did, I told him to write it up and if I liked it, I’d make it a guest post. Yeah, yeah, to the rest of you, the glory and undying fame of writing before
billions millions er… thousands of my adoring fans fascinated minders can be yours too. And I run into heavy stuff often enough I don’t mind having a few guest posts laid by. The caveat is I hate editing with an undying passion so it will take a while for me to read it. Meanwhile, put your hands together (not that way. I WILL do Witchfinder, you don’t need to pray for my sanity or whateve… oh, I see. Thanksgiving. Yes, I see that) and give a warm ATH welcome to Scott McGlasson.*
by Scott McGlasson
We spend a great deal of time working on the minute details of our characters, but none so much as our protagonists and our antagonists. With protagonists, even the shady anti-heroes, they inevitably have qualities that make us care about what happens to them. When a character really works, it’s almost like we’re meeting an actual person and listening to the way they describe themselves rather than we few dreamers creating them out of whole cloth.
Have you ever created a character that made you criticize yourself in some way? Once the characters had fleshed themselves out, have you ever looked at their way of doing things compared to how you do and found yourself lacking? Cuz I have recently and it’s not all that much fun.
My journey into self-inflicted angst began, as most journeys of self-inflicted angst do, at Borders Books. But first…
Scott: So, Borders Books…tell me. What is best in life?
Borders Books: The open latte counter, fleet-footed employees nowhere to be found, overpriced books in customers’ hands, and the pink highlights in our employee’s hair.
Scott: Wrong, Borders. It’s to crush your profits, see your customers driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of your granola-gnawing staff.
…and now back to the blog, already in progress.
Like most of you, whether you want to admit it or not, I raided my local Borders Books as it was going out of business. How could you not? In the weeks before the nearby franchise closed, they went from thirty percent off to eighty percent off books which had, only weeks before, been ridiculously expensive. The trick, it seemed, was to ride the crest of the chaos, hiding away the titles I wanted under other less interesting books like A Winner’s Guide To Successful Parcheesi Tournaments. Books of that caliber worked very well to camouflage my future purchases from the grubby little paws of other wannabe writers.
The end result was a veritable Tower Of Babel of babble about writing. At least half of those books were on character development and how your protagonist could very well suck if you didn’t pay heed. Well, I didn’t pay heed, but I did pay ten cents on the dollar. Today most of said tomes are under a layer of dust roughly comparable to that layered atop a forty-year-old’s home gym equipment.
Hidden deep within this collection of preemptive errata were things I’ve actually found quite useful. Sarah Domet’s 90 Days To Your Novel, for instance, has two things going for it that I was able to apply to my greener than green, wet behind the ears authoring; a solid approach to synopsis and outline, and a useful way to do character sheets. Am I going to use the rest of it? Hell. No. There’s no way on this Earth or any other that my manuscript will be finished in 90 Days, but I see nothing wrong with selectively parsing out the useful tidbits. Just won’t tell anyone I used a “90 Days To…” book, ‘kay? Don’t rat me out.
From what I gather from the published authors that I’ve traded correspondence with (including our immediate blogging goddess), most do not use character sheets to flesh out their cast. In the interest of aping success, I had not planned on using them either and was generally happy with the way my main guys and gals were describing themselves. I hit a low point in my plot development last week and needed to go off on a tangent to break the block, so I thought I’d give this character sheet a shot, as it were.
It had the typical stuff. His/Her Name? Where Does He/She Live? What Is His/Her Most Prized Possession? Etc, etc, ad nauseam. Where I really hit the meat of this exercise was working on my protagonist’s personality traits. Bare in mind, the guy in question is not your average, everyday Joe. If he was, he would be dead along with around five and half billion other such. No, this guy is an accomplished soldier, an inspiring leader, a reluctant monarch; in other words, a great man truly worthy of narration. But aside from all of that, Michael Edward Turner is a doer. He does. He came, he saw, and he did. He will do again. He’s the once and future doer. He’s…well, you get the gist.
The first thing one learns about leadership, aside from the awesome bennies (especially if it’s bureaucratic leadership), is that a great deal of it is just making a damned decision and acting on it. That’s a very powerful thing…acting on it. The sheer act of will that takes a thing from an idea such as “You know what? That dent in the drywall needs to be patched,” to, “Remember back when we used to have that dent in the drywall?” What is that except being a leader of one’s one inner demons (or daimones, if you’re Walter John Williams, which you probably are not) and marshaling them into action at the behest of directed will?
Sure we’re not talking about saving the human race from both a zombie apocalypse and an alien invasion here. We’re talking about fixing a frigging dent in the drywall. So why is Michael E. Turner doing all of these wonderful things within the electronic pages of my manuscript while my drywall remains unpatched?
I have long acknowledged that I’m a procrastinator. I do pine for a self-imposed work ethic of the sort that allows our gracious hostess to not only have a huge amount of work behind her—and in front of her, God willing—but also crank out wonderful screeds every day, sometimes twice a day, that keep the bloggerati thinking. Sure, I pine away, but what is pining if not yearning without realizing? What’s keeping me from such a work ethic? What’s preventing me from spending hours a day behind the keyboard, working on my manuscripts rather than using that time to absorb vacuous entertainment? Lack of will, for the most part. Sheer, unadulterated lack of will.
And that’s where Michael is kicking my ass up one side and down the other. Michael sees a job that needs doing, squares his shoulders to the task at hand, and gets it done the best way he knows how. Sure, he’s got his problems—if he didn’t, he wouldn’t be interesting—but he accomplishes. As I talk to this guy and discover more and more about him, I can’t help but wonder, “Why can’t I be more like that?”
And there’s the rub. If a rational, mature adult can conceive of a character like Michael in such detail, why can’t said rational, mature adult BE those things? Certainly, we can write about characters doing horribly evil things to victims in works of fiction and our moral compass prevents us from doing such things in real life, but what’s keeping us from emulating the positive aspects of our characters? This doesn’t necessary work for every aspect of a fictional character, I grant you. I can fully flesh out a character that can fly like a superhero, but gravity has something to say about me doing it in real life.
If I can fully flesh out a driven, accomplished individual with many positive character aspects, what’s stopping me from trying to adopt those aspects in my own life? The answer, inescapably, is myself.
How about you?