THE HARDEST PART OF WRITING…
is what you put your characters through, to tell your story.
Yes, this is what you created and delivered them for. They are your babies, but they were always meant for sorrow, because no good story avoids sorrow.
Writers of fiction are making a point: if I extract the relevant parts of human life, and clean them up so they are tidier and cleaner than the mess that can be real life, can I show that the story has a moral, something I’m trying to say?
There is so much to tell
that it is impossible to tell it all within the confines of the longest epic poem or novel series.
The clock starts counting seconds even before the birth, and doesn’t stop until reaching ‘The End.’
And still the writer, even the one who creates a world which encompasses the whole life of a character in one piece, must discard MOST of that life, and pick only a few high points, hoping to use those to tell you something.
So what will the writer choose to teach?
And what pieces of that character’s life will the writer use as salutary or insalubrious examples the Reader should consider following?
Not the boring parts, not necessarily the exciting parts.
But often the points where the character, a relative unknown to even the author at its conception, makes mistakes. BIG mistakes. Very BAD decisions.
And when we get to creating and writing those mistakes, we may suddenly find that we really wouldn’t have ever done this to our now-child if we had been thinking more clearly – because we love them, and this will HURT. A lot.
Not a bad place to be – as a parent or an author
Our writing choices are better if we care.
If we are going to hurt, damage, punish, instruct a character, it better be worth it.
To both of us.
But it is natural, first, for the author to flounder about, wondering if this torture can be bypassed, whether it is really necessary, whether we should be the ones to inflict the damage.
It’s a testament of a kind to Pride’s Children
that every single time I have hit this point, I have steeled myself, stuck to the original plan which came to me in one piece, ‘vouchsafed’ as I like to say only to me, and written through the pain (mine) and the sorrow (theirs) because that IS the story.
Characters become very real to you when you spend twenty years with them, which I will have spent sometime this year.
They also become more determined, and more pigheaded, more what you made them, more willing and able to carry the burden.
Like the actor chosen to play the villain, they have gotten enamored of their role, and are giving it everything they have.
They would be quite annoyed if the author watered down their part – which now belongs to them and is their chance to shine on stage.
I have enjoyed very much the preparation of Shakespearean actor Anthony Sher, which he writes about in The Year of the King, as he prepares for the role of King Lear. Whether the king is the true villain of the play or not, his decisions are momentous and affect the lives of all the other characters.
Actors live for such a role.
My characters are fictional, but…
Sure they are. I tell my brain that all the time. It doesn’t listen.
No real people are harmed by whatever I do to them.
So why do I keep finding myself at this point, where I have to justify to myself what I am about to write them through?
Is it more that it exposes MY worldview?
There is some of that.
But I sat down with this feeling today and realized I get my worldview from the world, the one we all live in.
I’m not one of the experimental science fiction authors who create entire races of very different characters (Olivia Butler does a superb job of this).
I strive for such absolute realism in my writing, from ‘right behind the characters’ eyeballs,’ that you will feel this happened to you – until you close the book.
I want you to live another LIFE
I want you to think very hard about what you would do if faced with the kind of consequences that are determined by the behavior I’m espousing by showing you a character doing it.
And be glad, or maybe experience regret and longing, that they don’t actually happen – to YOU.
So this is my job.
And I go back to it with all my prejudices reinforced.