Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Friends as Characters

So, I'm just beginning to flesh out a basic outline of my second novel. When that's done I'll share more about that process, but right now let's talk about characters.

Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is NOT purely coincidental

Someone once said, "All writing is autobiography." I wish whoever said that would tell my family that doesn't mean they have to psychoanalyze everything I write to see if I'm getting depressed or psychotic. What that statement really means is that writing is based on our personal experiences. Even when we imagine the most unrealistic, fantastical situations, we're still basing those ideas on what we know.

How boring would writing be if every character were some variation of the author? Certainly characters must be diverse enough that their motivations and idiosyncrasies make them interact in interesting and enjoyable ways. If all writing were purely autobiographical, all characters would be the same person, have the same motivations and thus would never come into conflict.

The characters in my novel are somewhat autobiographical because they are a collection of traits I've seen in people I've known. I'm asked, every time I write something with a female character, whether that character "is" a particular romantic interest from my past. It never is. In fact, I avoid using any trait from that person just so I can say with confidence that no character is based on her. But while I never copy friends outright, I often incorporate aspects of their personality, history and appearance in building more believable characters.

A pinch of you, a dash of him, and a hint of Daddy issues...

When building a character, this is the process I use:

1) Define the major motivations of the character. What do they want most in life?
2) What events happened in the character's life to make them want what they do?
3) What about those events affect the mannerisms, appearance, reputation etc. of the character?

Sometimes, a character's motivations hew closely to those of people I've known in my own life. For instance, in my first novel, there is a character who has given up a personal hobby because his fiancee disapproves. Here, the character's major motivation is to make his fiancee happy, which makes one wonder why someone would endure a relationship in which they are expected to give up something they love?

As I developed this character's history, I considered those people I've known who experienced something similar. I knew a guy who went to law school because his fiancee wanted him to have a better career, and a girl who took up mountain sports in order to please her boyfriend. I took these people, thought about everything I know about them and their relationships, and used that to craft the character.

Some friends who have read my work comment that they thought one character or another seemed very similar to someone they knew. And they were right! Because that character was based in small part on a mutual friend. Other times, those same people fail to see the connection between characters and people they know, including themselves, because I use more than one real person to craft a single character.

It is lazy writing to completely copy a real person (outside the context of a biography, of course), and potentially libelous to boot, but failing to find some basis in reality can make characters bland at best, generic and perhaps even offensively stereotypical at worst. If you're stuck in the process of building a character, consider your friends and keep building traits until you have a character who is so real you could imagine having a real conversation with them.

Just don't go writing about that one, former romantic interest everyone expects you to. I can't imagine that ever going well.


Just Getting Started...

I hate writing the first post on a blog. It always feels somewhat disingenuous when you're done. If I had to guess, I'd say 9 out of 10 blogs begin and end with a single post. It's a promise often left unfulfilled, like a New Year's resolution to stop getting fatter which ends on January 2nd.

Unfortunately, I can't promise that I will ever fulfill the promise of this blog.

You see, I'm at an odd crossroads in my career. I've just finished my first novel, published it on Amazon (here), and now I desperately want to write another. I will write another. But, the conditions which allowed me to write my first novel have changed.

Last week, I was a stay-at-home dad. For the past few years, I had a job which I could do from home. When I lost that job, I used the time I had left until my daughter went to preschool to finish the novel. Now my little girl is in school, and I have some time to fill.

I should get a job outside the house. In fact, I've been looking.

Part of me craves the idea of going to a job, putting in a hard day's work, and earning both respect and some extra spending money. Mainly respect, or rather, not having to face the uncomfortable judgments of people who won't tell me they think writing is a stupid career.

It's not stupid. It's not easy. I work harder than most people I know. It just doesn't pay well, yet.

Part of me wants and is looking for a "real" job, while the rest of me wants to make writing work as a career. So while I look for a job, I have tons of free time with my daughter in preschool. I might as well try to make this writing thing work.

There are two possibilities with this blog. The first is that I get a job, stop trying to make writing a career, and that's the end of this little experiment. The second possibility is that I find freelance writing opportunities to pay the bills while I crank out my second novel. If the second possibility is to happen, I have to have either very bad or very good luck. Either I can't find any job for an extended period of time (bad luck) or I find that earning money through writing is lucrative enough that I don't need to look for other employment (good luck).

For as long as I'm trying to make writing my career, which could be anywhere from a few weeks to forever, I will update this blog with my thoughts, struggles, successes and suggestions. If I give it up, I'll at least have the courtesy to let you know.

See you on the next post.

I hope...