Multiple Personalities and Commonalities

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It’s a funny thing about writing fiction. You have to be able to write from a point of view, personality, and situation other than your own. It would be pretty boring if a fiction writer were constrained to writing only themselves.

I’ve been thinking about that a lot this week, because it is one of the things that makes writing so much fun for me. Imagining weird situations and interesting difficulties and inspiring responses is really cool, and is also why I like to read and watch really good stories.

But more than that, I think discovering the ability to think in a character’s point of view helps me grow as a person. It is really hard to put yourself into another person’s shoes in the real world, to understand why they do and believe things that I would not. Yet writing is the purest exercise in doing just that.

I’ve found that to write a character drastically different than myself, especially villains, I have to find that part of them that is understandable. Something that is, in all truth, part of myself. That way I can have compassion for them, even though what they do is strange or detestable or horrific.

And just to be clear, this has nothing to do with forcing approval or acceptance of those negative things – I do believe in clear right and wrong, and I’m a fan of fiction where people fight for what they believe in even when it is hard or complicated. I’m talking about finding a way to see past the detestable traits that make you want to put distance between yourself and the character, because this results in a very shallow and incomplete view.

Of course this is so much more important to attempt with real life people, otherwise harshness and judgement creep in, often in much more trivial and “gray” situations than occur in fiction.

I think the key to all this is recognizing the commonality between all people – and not always the “amazing beauty of humanity,” though there is some of that as well. We are made in God’s image, beloved and sought-after – that’s enough of a reason to respect one another.

But sometimes it’s more important to recognize the less popular commonality that comes from our fallen nature. We aren’t broken into “good people” and “bad people.” Those are false labels. It’s an easier way out, to point at someone and declare them evil or impossible to understand. I think that is part of the lie we tell ourselves, to help us feel more comfortable and to deny the darkness within.

But if I can get past the denial or pride or horror to find that dark place that identifies with even the worst actions people can take, I gain something precious. That knowledge of shared darkness is what lets me understand. It gives me certainty that no one is beyond saving, and allows me to access (and sometimes use) things like compassion, mercy, grace, and forgiveness – things that bless me just as much as they bless others.

So, in a weird way, I’m forced to appreciate my own failings and darkness. Otherwise, there would be no reason or ability to practice those skills, and I’d miss out on the blessing.

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Outlining for Fun and Profit (or not)

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I managed to outline my current novel! Yay!

I’ve never managed this before. Granted, it is a pretty shallow outline, very superficial. It only hits the biggest points. I’ll still need to fill in an enormous amount as I write. There are several places that say “Niabi learns something, which leads her to do such-and-such.” I’m not exaggerating, this is verbatim.

But I can trace the most important events of the three main storylines, and that makes me feel better about the whole project. I was having trouble managing the complexity of the plot before – likely contributing to how little progress I was making.

I’m making more progress now, thank goodness. So I’m pretty happy to have a dim light to brighten the path.

I doubt I will ever be a super heavy outliner. It just isn’t natural to me, but I do see the benefits of it. I’ve read the books and done some of the exercises. I understand the basics of plotting and story structure. But it turns out I just don’t see stories like that. It is a struggle to untangle other people’s stories, and even harder to see my own like that.

I’d rather think of an event or situation and follow my character’s reaction to it until that makes something else happen. I can always tell when I hit on how my character would feel or what she would do. It all clicks and I know it is right. I think that’s why I write in fits and starts – I need pondering time.

And interestingly enough, just like I need that pondering time before I sit down to write a scene, I couldn’t force the outline either. To me, outlining was a task of organization – if I can just state what I need, I can think of what to fill the gap with. Logical, defined, nice and neat. But not so.

Writing the outline still required getting into the heads of my characters, only on that slightly higher level that has, until now, developed naturally from the consistent choices and behavior of my characters. In other words, I had to figure out what larger picture would develop from the interplay of the characters before I wrote those interactions. I guess some people, outlining people, must look at it the other way – the big picture comes easily, and then they worry about what small situations can add up to that big picture.

Even a glimpse of that higher level took a long time to form in my head and on paper, which must be why I won’t ever be a natural outliner. I’ll struggle with it and I’ll benefit from the work, because in order to write the complex stories I like, I’ll need to keep practicing my outline skills. But I don’t think I’ll have a really good view of my story before it is written. And that’s OK, because I get a thrill from pantsing it, and I’m not afraid of rewriting!

Seals & Silly Games

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TGIF! And for the first time in a long while, today actually is Friday, and I actually have tomorrow off. My Friday and real Friday line up, and I’m excited!

This week is a pretty fun week at work, though. Our two harbor seals are learning to eat fish without our help, which involves lots of aquatic acrobatics, including splashing the rehabber until it looks like she fell in. We also received the good news from the veterinary team; both seals passed the heath inspection and quarantine period, so they are now hanging out together.

On the writing front, I’m making progress. Another chapter is under my belt, and I’m hoping to get at least 2 done in the next 3 days. Although I think I’m obsessing a little too much – it might not be a good sign when you’re listening to a song and suddenly you realize that the song lines up perfectly with how you’re trying to portray a character in a particular scene. (For the amusement of those of you who have read some of my manuscript, here are 2 examples: Del and Chay – please ignore the weird videos…) I guess it doesn’t help that I have a new favorite band. I switch favorite bands every couple months, it really depends what catches my ear and imagination.

But maybe it is good, because it means that I’ve got a solid sense of the characters. Maybe I should find songs for my other main characters! Any other writers out there find themselves doing things like this

Here’s another silly game for y’all. What kind of birds are in the following pics? Answers will be forthcoming at the end of my weekend…

Bird #1

Bird #2

And a baby of the same species as Bird #2

Bird #3

Bird #4