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.

9 comments:

Roheryn said...

Wow... that's some good advice for writing a villian.

I'll have to remember that!

My main charrie... well, how do I say that she's me, just with everything magnified. As to how I write... I feel that my main charrie ish talking to me, and I'm just writing down her story...

Zonk said...

Thanks, roheryn :D

Lots of writers feel the way you do about their characters. As for me, my characters are bondslaves, they do precisely and only what I tell them to do, lol.

I imagine new facets or portions of backstory for my characters from time to time, depending on the circumstances, or what I know of the character already.

Most writers, like sculptors, I believe, fall into either of two camps: those that chip away at a chunk of rock to reveal what they see within, and those that mold with clay, forming and adding as necessary...

Erastes Christianou said...

I'm like Roh in that I feel as though my characters are talking to me, and I just write what they tell - and I have a lot of different characters for different stories.

My favorite character, so far, is actually from an RPG that I take part in on the DIOM forum...and she's actually a DIOM-like character in that she's an anthrozil - her traits are wings (silver in color) and strength. She's also a prophet (prophetess?). She's also only 13 years old.

I feel like she's my little sister or daughter most times - and when I write her I feel like she's teaching me, in a way...

As for writing characters that are like myself...I did that ages ago, and it just never worked, to be honest. The characters ended up being rather boring, and the story turned out bland. I have better luck with characters that aren't like me. In fact, much like the character that I mentioned above, I find myself learning things from my characters, things like faith and love...

Villains - honestly, I have no trouble finding mean, evil, and sadistic things for my villains to do. The trouble I run into is finding the evil deed that's right for that moment, or for that story, or for that character. I also have difficulty with the villains "minions" or accomplices - how far will they go to carry out their master's orders? Will they go? Will they die working for their sinister boss, or are they redeemable at any point? If they are - will their former master kill them for it?

Midwestern Writer Wannabe said...

"Lots of writers feel the way you do about their characters. As for me, my characters are bondslaves, they do precisely and only what I tell them to do"

I'm right there with that one...

My best villians are the ones who believe they're trying to do the right thing, but can't stop themselves from doing it through the most evil methods possible.

Roheryn said...

If only I could get my charries to do exactly what I wanted them to do...
my work often comes to a halt 'cause my charries are mad at me for something or another...

as to Lucy being like me... if my virtues and vices weren't magnified, she'd be a pretty boring charrie too... but then, I also have charries who are the total opposite, or somewhere in between, so they kinda balance one another out...

although my villians... they always end up too nice...

Roheryn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kare Alethieas said...

I have scared myself with the extents I can go to. I held back for a long while, because I was afraid of what people would think if my villains did this and that.

My characters...my main characters are usually another version of me. In the same RPG that ILH mentioned above, my character is me, with some extra traits. And is also me should my parents die this year, and my siblings all be years older than me. The circumstances are different, but Tali's me. Iyana's somewhat of the same way. Other characters are like people I have known, or people I wish to meet.

I can do evil I scare myself with through my villains. I won't go into details.

As for the bondslaves...I wish mine were. They go off randomly, changing personalities on me, ect. It makes for an interesting writing experience though.

gdtownshende said...

You know, the first time I was truly honest with myself was the day I was driving and I caught myself doing exactly what I condemned others for doing. Since then, I've realized that I'm truly capable of doing some mean, wicked shit. We all are. All it really requires is the right trigger.

Lajos Egri, in his excellent book, THE ART OF DRAMATIC WRITING, in chapter 12, "How to Get Ideas", (which is both the shortest and, I think, most important chapter of the book)...

"Were you ever so angry that people thought you were losing your mind? No? Other people were. Were you ever so jealous that you thought you couldn't bear it any longer? If your answer happens to be "no," you are a rare one, and you'll never understand the motivation of a mere human."

His advice, essentially, is to take some trait — say, ambition — and emphasize it. "If," he says, "you write about ambition, it should be ruthless ambition If you choose affection, it should be possessive affection. They generate conflict."

His book has to be, I think, one of the best I've ever read, even though it deals primarily with play writing.

Pais Charos said...

Hey, you. I just realized I never gave you the link to my new blog :6 *ahem* This is Connie from the FCWC, used to be known as erastes, but now am known as Pais in the blog world. My first post on my new blog explains why I switched. Catch ya later!!