So the last post I wrote got me to thinking a bit…
I try to avoid that as a rule, but occasionally I do have to think.
It burns! It burns us!
Err, never mind.
Anyway, I started to think, mostly about characters. More specifically, about what it is that draws me to characters, and why certain ones resonate with me and others do not.
Now, I started this blog in an effort to “live-blog” (in a sense) the process of writing a novel…specifically, the story that turned into Wrath & Tears. I failed at that. I failed at that in much the same way I fail at a serious love life…umm, never mind, you really don’t want to know.
So, I figure I’ll start again. And this time I won’t hold back and think to myself, “I’ll blog when I’m done…”. That didn’t work out so well, so I’ll try something different. I’m not sure that’ll make me any more sane*, but it’s worth a try…
*Shit, I write sci-fi and fantasy…by any reasonable definition, I’m pretty fucking nuts.
Anyway, back to characters. I’ve written a ton of characters, in a variety of stories and types. I’ve tried almost everything, from classical archetypes to completely-stream-of-consciousness whackjobs. It’s the flawed and the broken that work. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty fucked-up myself, but I just can’t get my mind wrapped around those characters that are “perfect”.
As a case in point: in everything I’ve ever written, going back 30-some years, by far (and I mean BY FAR) my favorite character is Oz. Oz aspires to reach broken and fucked-up. He makes broken and fucked-up look like perfection. He’s been a prostitute since he was seven years old, he neither trusts nor loves any person in the universe except Connor….and when he thinks he’s losing Connor, all he can do is lash out in an attempt to destroy that one person who truly matters to him. This is a kid who is (in the “reality” of the book’s timeline) barely sixteen years old, and he is flawed almost beyond repair.
I love Oz. I know people like Oz (to an extent). I want to “fix” Oz, but I know I can’t–not and have him be the same character. Killing Oz was the hardest–and the worst–thing I’ve ever done as a writer.
Connor isn’t quite as fucked-up, but he is broken and flawed in his own way…and that’s why he still has power over me.
Why on Earth–or any other planet/epithet/wish–would I ever want to write someone who had it all together? How fucking boring would that be?
“We’re screwed, MrProtagonist! Do you know the right answer?”
“Why, yes. Yes, I do.”
Bah. Shoot me. I’d rather go back and watch episodes of MacGyver than read–let alone write!–something like that.
You’ll forgive me, I hope, for going religious for a moment…but–and let’s be honest–the bible is one of the cornerstones of modern western writing, so there’s no ignoring it (Note – my faith, lack of faith, or struggling doubt is none of your business…just as yours is none of mine).
So, what biblical character truly resonates with me? Peter. When push came to shove, he sold out his Teacher (Jesus). Not just once but multiple times. He was a good man pushed way past his limits, and he had no idea what the hell he was doing. Whether you believe it as real, or read it as story, that means something. That makes him real…especially to someone like me. He’s not a picture of sanctified perfection, not even close. I can’t do sanctified perfection; not on paper and most definitely not in my own life.
I love it when characters make it hard on me. I love it when they make me explore my own prejudices, values and judgments. The best characters in literature do that; they make you question everything you know, everything about yourself.
You ever read Crime & Punishment? No? Do it. Trust me on that, do it. And put yourself in his place. It’s humbling.
You really want to learn about the flawed, and the triumph of the broken? Read Solzhenitsyn. A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch if you want something short, but The Cancer Ward if you really want to dive in to the deep end. Gulag Archipelago is your advanced degree on broken, fucked-up people.
I can throw out a bunch more examples, some fiction, some nonfiction: Goodbye to All That, Bleak House, Of Human Bondage, anything by Tom Wolfe*…crap, I could go on forever. To tie things back to the title of this post: I am not actually much of a fan of A Song of Fire & Ice (sorry, George!), but with one huge(ish) exception. Tyrion is not just the best damned character in that series, he is one of the most interesting characters in a hundred years of fantasy writing. I’ve read every single one of those books solely because of Tyrion.
*My favorite writer, by the way.
I have had my thoughts, by the way, about doing the “perfect” character. The guy/girl who knows exactly what the fuck they’re doing, and can actually do it… That ain’t easy for me–I can barely put the toilet paper roll on the “right” way, how the hell do I write about someone smart and always-on-top? It’s still far too early, but let’s just say I have this idea for a fantasy series….a series about the well-and-truly broken and screwed, in conflict with the theoretically perfect.
Guess whose side I’m on?