clues at the scene

clues at the scene

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Bad Habits for Memorable Characters

Writers adopt bad habits faster than bunnies have babies.

It starts with the fiction - lies - and goes down hill from there. We neglect people who are important to us. We neglect not just the details of life but sometimes whole swaths of it. We're prone to sloth, drink, gluttony, self-doubt, every imaginable sin against the English language, exaggeration, imprecision, and forgetfulness.

We can look at the same sentence for an hour and not see that the participle has gone and hanged itself.

What about our characters ? We craft intricate dances for them and generally emphasize very little as we have limited space for description. A word or two, an unshined shoe, maybe a knowing grunt: that's it.

Oh, for emphasis we might have 'em pour a drink, take a slug, wince, grimace, look away. Once perhaps.

Hemingway suggests that characters should be deprived of security. They have internal conflicts that they have learned to manage and when we write a story we are depriving them of their coping mechanisms. We put them in a war with a mission and people they begin to care about more than they should. We let them embrace abject failure, rationalize it as their lot and then put a huge fish on the line and dare them to posture that success doesn't matter.

I'm not Mr. Hemingway and my conflicts are seldom well realized. ( I'm working on it.) However, I was noticing my tendency to retreat with a big bundle of bad habits when stress erupts. Spindle me just a little and I begin to look like Mr. Bad Example (sorry Warren). All the usual.

Then I look and notice when I put my characters in real conflict, they're not retreating to their bad behavior nearly enough. Oh, they're morose or pause or linger over breakfast or maybe buy a pint of Turkey. However - they don't try and retreat enough.

Further, my conflict doesn't continue to intrude. How is it in good literature ? Does an element of conflict erupt and allow the character ample time to adjust and adapt or a does a mad cascade occur compelling them to change or die ?

Relationship problems, work problems, a dead body, the F.B.I -> these all cascade together.

The  bride doesn't announce she's unhappy and then a couple of merry days pass with maybe a congenial drunk with the best man.

 No, the bride says "I need some space" and our protagonist walks to the car with three days' clothes, opens the trunk, and finds his father-in-law modeling this season's newest look in entry wounds.  The phone rings and it's his mother-in-law in her most sultry southern accent suggesting he meet her for a drink at the Fireside "and maybe not mention it to Melinda." He might be in a position to manage some of this if he weren't a new Special Agent with the F.B.I. who is hoping to hear tomorrow about an assignment with potential undercover work in an "organized crime unit."

Hit 'em, then hit 'em again. What would I be doing ?  Drinking, eating, missing appointments, forgetting the dog,  not answering the phone, and starting a new story.

What should the protagonist be doing ? Opening a big can of self-destructive behavior.

Eagle Scouts are great guys to have when a campfire is needed. Otherwise, we want to read about the miscreants who are too damn near our own flawed selves.

Here's hoping there are no dead bodies in your trunks, tonight. Sultry blondes - well. Good luck with that.

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