Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Key to Convincing Characters

The town I live in is prettier than other people's towns, and the man I'm married to is handsomer than other people's husbands. If the world functions as it should, though, those other people disagree with me!

Today is Damon's birthday. We spent the morning doing the Riverwalk with his parents, met my Reverend Mom for lunch at a Mexican restaurant where his Mom remembered really liking a shrimp dish (and couldn't remember what it was called), and now we're resting up for the blueberry-apple pie I made him in lieu of a cake.

Riverwalking is not actually much of his idea of a good time, but the chief thing for him is to be with the people he loves, so this is how it panned out. I used to get frustrated with him because I always have something I want to be seeing or doing or learning and when I got to feeling I was dragging him all over the place and never letting him do what he wanted to do, he never had anything he particularly wanted to do. I was even the motivating force behind our getting back into gaming 13 years ago, though he does more than his fair share of the work that supports it. But that's the way he is. He's not an instigator. He's an enabler. Somebody else says: "We should do this" and he says: "Okay, this is how to make that happen; I've set this up for you, when do you want to do that thing?"

Over and over and over, I meet people who cannot conceive that other people are not like themselves. You like this food rather than that, that activity rather than this one, interpret this narrative that way? Nonsense! You can't possibly! Such people are bigots, and bigotry is a just as wrong, whether the topic at issue is a book or a belief or a sexual preference.

But there are even more people who cannot conceive that a writer can invent someone who is not like herself; who is amazed that I wrote about a teen-ager who enjoyed the opportunity to drive a Corvette before I learned to drive, or about a child who enjoyed raw tomatoes though I don't care for them; who reacts to every word out of a character's mouth as if it must be the opinion of the author (even when that character is the villain and the hero's actions directly contradict him).

On the contrary. The key to writing a realistic, three-dimensional character is to set aside who you are, access who that character is, and let him be himself; just like you do for the people you love. You wouldn't insist that your husband not eat tomatoes just because you can't stand them; you don't (I hope!) gag your in-laws when they express opinions on child-rearing or politics or whatever that differ from yours. Imaginary people don't deserve as much from us as real ones do, but if we want them to seem real, it behooves us to treat them with the same respect we grant to real ones.

Okay, that's enough writerly wisdom for one day. I have a husband to spoil, if he'll let me.

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