Thursday, July 30, 2015

Character Troubles

I'm gearing up to teach a course called Introduction to Literary Interpretation this fall. It's a class for beginning literature majors, to introduce them to major concepts like "genre" and technical terms like "synedoche." One of the concepts we have to cover is "character"--round characters, flat characters, stock characters, unreliable narrators, archetypes, etc, and what qualities make characters relatable, likeable, or compelling.

There's always some shred of hope that what I'm teaching will bleed into my own writing. If I'm teaching about great characters, maybe it will make it easier to write a great character, right? Wrong. It is not easy to write a great character, and the more I try, the more fake and cobbled-together it feels.

I'm not generally a fan of fluffy, touchy-feely, "become one with the universe" "just let the muse flow" "listen to your book, and your book will tell you what to write" kind of advice. I'm more of the belief that writing is hard work and that you have to sit down and move your fingers around your keyboard day in and day out to be successful at it. But I'm starting to feel like a character has some sort of intangible reality outside (or inside?) of my own brain, because I am finding it so difficult to write Miranda.

Miranda is the main character of #JurassicUnicorn. And even though I have complete control over every aspect of her personality--each facet of her being is something that I have consciously put there--she feels real, and solid, and immovable to me. 

This wouldn't be a bad thing if she didn't also bore the hell out of me.

I have written 94 double-spaced pages of #JurassicUnicorn. Just over 26,000 words. Not that much, really, considering that people who complete NaNoWriMo write 50,000 words in a month. (Last November, when I did NaNoWriMo, I only wrote 15,000.)  But also nothing to sneeze at. And I'm not losing interest in the book. I feel confident in its potential.

But my main character is just dragging me down. 

A lot of it is that I have this idea of Miranda as an inflexible, literal-minded person who opens up over the course of the story. She’s a scientist by vocation and by nature; she sees the world as a puzzle to be solved and believes that every question has an answer. In this way, she is an optimist. But I haven’t written her very optimistically, which may be part of the problem. She’s fundamentally sad. Her outlook on life is kind of dreary. She is very introverted and perhaps a bit of a misanthrope. At the beginning of the book, she really only loves two people: her brother and the unicorn she has created.  I think that maybe this is why I find her boring; it’s hard for me to relate to someone joyless.

Part of the reason I've written her this way is that I want her to have a major emotional shift associated with her brush with the supernatural. She has a religious experience, the first in her life, and it changes her. But I also don’t want to paint her as a dour, sad atheist who needs God to be happy, because I don’t believe that message myself. (Nor do I believe that all scientists are introverts, or that all introverts are misanthropes, etc.)

And I can change that about her. She doesn’t have to be that way. It feels like she inhabits a corner of my mind, a dark, dour presence, but that presence is an illusion. She isn't real.