There are characters we love to hate in movies and books, we run into them all the time. Occasionally we find ourselves writing them.
,Often these are the necessary antagonist to get our main character moving. I’m usually pretty fond of the antagonist. I can never think of these characters without remembering advice that came from my son when he was ten or eleven. I’d gotten angry with a family member, and he heard me complaining to a friend. He got into the conversation, not siding with anyone, but clearly interested in seeing me let go of the resentment.
I don’t know whether this dropping-the-seed-into-the-hole was done as lovingly as it appeared or whether the seed had begun to stick to the roof of her mouth. But it looked like it was done with a kind of tenderness, and then she would, with obvious care, use one paw to cover it with sand or leaves. She’d sort of dance away, feeling a job had been done well, but then she’d pause, look around—probably feeling the presence of an observer as a prickle down her spine—and whip back to the site of the dig and unearth that mango seed with one great swipe of the furry paw. She’d sniff it approvingly, no sign of tampering, snatch it up in her teeth and set off on another search-and-dig mission that would take another twenty to forty minutes of her puppy day.
The feeling I had watching Clio, a kind of fascination, part love, part getting to know her, that’s how I want to feel about my characters, especially the less attractive ones. How else can I put them on the page in a way that will establish them in the reader’s imagination, will hold a readers interest for hours?
Eventually i find something in their experience that is "like me," and like you, something universally understood as cause and then i wrestle him to the floor, bend him this way and that, until I get something that is clearly effect. i write scenes that will never make it into the book, perhaps a day in his past or even his future, i put tangible objects into that scene, i listen to the character's own memories, and i ask myself what all these details mean. i don't rush him, i linger with this character that has been less than fascinating and soon, while i'm mulling over meanings and themes, motives and the stakes this character had in the outcomes, he excavates precisely the information that makes him essential to the story he lives in.
What i don't think about during this process is what i'm really doing, which is writing myself into this character, into an interior landscape that i haven't yet truly walked, but i'm still finding little trail signs, the trod upon leaf, the broken end of a branch, the turned over stone, the damp footprint, and letting them lead me to the self i haven't yet been. When I write myself into a book, when any of us write ourselves into our characters, we must have the willingness to see the charm in our limited understanding, the virtue in our dogged persistence, we must have the courage of our convictions no matter how wrong we are.
Audrey Couloumbis--actually i'm requesting your kind patience. i haven't got the hang of this quite yet and it's too early to call the west coast and ask for help get this columnar layout to disappear. i tried and the pictures moved all around. i'll get it sorted out later today, i hope. And of course, you'll find me here once a month, writing for you. Leave a message and she’ll get back to you.
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