Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Introspection, Part 1

Those supposed to be In The Know say that all the characters a writer creates retain some facet of the writer's character.

I don't know if I agree with this altogether, since most of my characters are amalgams of people I know, or have known. I explain my process of character-building here for those interested.

But for my primary antagonist (Agakari; think Hannibal Lector on steroids and less inhibited), I said that I dug him up from the deepest, darkest parts of my own psyche. This shocked Madame Editor considerably when I told her, since she only knows me now in this angelic manifestation.

But the High Inquisitor is not me. He is, however, someone I might have become (supernatural powers excepted, of course...) had I taken a different path in life. This is true also of my protagonist. Jonas is not me, but I could have become very like him had circumstances been different.

When writing a character, however, the writer must somehow enter into that character's 'mind', must think, must feel, must react, like that character. At least this is how it is for me; if other writers have an alternative process, they can explain it to you in their own blogs. Perhaps this is what Those In The Know mean by some part of the writer being found in the character.

It did, however, present me with a problem. I didn't want to enter the mind of Agakari. I didn't want to mix the bloodlines of men and beasts with magic darker than the Styx, nor Transform men into soulless Gargoyles, nor produce progeny from my nearest living female relative (Warning: the previous sentence contains spoilers for those who may read my novel...).

And so I intended to write my antagonist in a similar way to that employed by Tolkien with Sauron; as a presence that permeates the book, whom one never meets, but is always aware of. As time went on, I realized this could not work, since Jonas had to meet Agakari several times in the book, as did one or two other characters. I had to write from within the antagonist's mind therefore.

So at last we come to the point of this post. I have mentioned Observation, Imagination, and downright Theft as part of a writer's necessary skills, but to this point I have not made much of Introspection.

A writer needs to know what he or she is capable of.

I have very little time with those who believe humanity to be essentially good: all the empirical evidence seems to me against them, apart from the Scriptures I believe in. But we don't, of course, like to think of ourselves as inherently evil, as containing within our own psyche the seeds of our own destruction. It isn't pleasant, it lowers our precious self-esteem, which, of course, is unthinkable in the modern Zeitgeist.

Perhaps it will help to ask you, gentle reader, to remember the last time you wished a fellow human being harm. The Democrats among you need only think of the sitting President, and Republicans of the previous. There, see how easy it is?

Now for the hard part.

Look deep into your heart, and be honest with yourself (be careful; your own heart will deceive you into thinking you are really quite a nice person), and find out what you would really do to someone you truly dislike, if you could get away with it.

Did you scare yourself? If you didn't, you weren't honest enough.

Now take what you found, and give it to your antagonist, and you will have a bloody good villain.

Pun intended.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

To Write, or Not to Write...

That is the question.

I see that it has been some time since I last posted. There are many reasons for this, including the selling of drugs (my profession), writing my second novel (my passion), and Global Warming (a pretension: but, since it is responsible for everything else...).

There are times when every Writer wonders whether to continue writing; when rejection by Pubbers, writer's block, apathy of loved ones, and derision of critics all, or singly, conspire against us.

Some Writers defeat these enemies of setting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard by dreams of becoming the next Stephen King (Horrors) J.K. Rowling (Hogwarts) or Dan Brown (Hogwash). Others seek Literary Fame in the Genre that Takes Itself Much Too Seriously to Be Enjoyed. I don't have examples of those types of authors, since I don't read them. This will no doubt make them feel better about the value of the outpourings of their souls, since to them I am a Philistine. I write Fantasy.

I wrote my first novel just to see if I could do it. I had help in the form of a friend, let's call her Madam Editor (she has a Master's in English, so perhaps I should call her Mistress Editor. Or maybe even Editrix...) , to whom I submitted the first half of the first chapter. "Pretend this is a creative writing essay," I said, "and put blue pen marks all over it. Please." She asked where the rest of the chapter was. "Um," I said, "it's not done yet." So she told me to finish the chapter and send it.

I wrote the whole novel that way, waiting for Madame Editor's comments, editing, and then on to the next chapter. After I finished, she did a once-over of the entire MS for me. Yes I do know how incredibly fortunate I am. Because I was getting immediate feedback, I learned to do things instinctively that many writers only learn later: writing with your 'ideal reader' in mind (Madam), self-editing, and how to tease your readers with cliff-hanging chapter endings. The Madam called me after one particularly steep ending. "Is Diane dead, or not?" she asked. "I'm not telling you," I replied. "Ok, then," she said, "You have 48 hours to get the next chapter to me."

So I learned about deadlines under threat of grievous bodily harm, as well.

But mostly I learned that writing is something I must do. It's part of how I now define myself. More than that, it is a compulsion, a need, an addiction. The sequel isn't proceeding as quickly as the first, because the exigencies of Real Life have intervened: I have interrupted the thing not because of Writer's Block, but by choice.

And it's been bloody miserable. My mind refuses to accept that my fingers haven't been typing at the usual rate, or frequency, and it rushes off, carried headlong by the Muse, into all sorts of Dreams of scenes that simply beg to be written down. They pile on top of one another, and side by side, till my head has swollen so large it's difficult to get in and out of doors.

I have had, therefore, to resume my former schedule of writing. It was either that or suffer a violent psychic hemorrhage.

Oh, and I had a conversation with Madame Editor today. She hasn't seen any of the sequel yet, since I refused to put her through the ordeal, and she declined to read it without being able to turn the page after a precipitous chapter ending.

"Did you know that McAllister -" I began. "No," she said. "No, no, no." So I tried again. "He doesn't want to be tempted -" I said. "I'm not listening." she said, which I respected, at least until the next time I tease her with a detail or two about the book.

The Writers among you will know how that conversation made me feel. The rest of you can eat you heart out.