Amber Michelle (myaru) wrote,
Amber Michelle

100 Things #015: Characterization- it's like being stood up for a lunch date.

You go to meet your friend for lunch, sit down at the table, look at the menu. You're looking forward to talking about this or that, about trying that new sandwich, hearing about your friend's life. But she doesn't show up. It turns out she's just really late - and she never has been punctual as far as you know, but punctuality isn't everything! - and in the meantime you get tired of sitting around. Your mind moves to other things - things to write, things you could be doing. You're bored. You order lunch and start eating, and you're mostly done by the time your friend gets there. When she does, it all goes mostly as planned.

When I try to write a story, the characters do not tell me what they're going to do, as I've seen other writers describe. They don't "talk" to me. Those are metaphors, yes, but what they are metaphors for - that doesn't happen. I start a story, waiting to go along for the ride and watch what these strange people will do, and-- they do nothing. Sometimes they're not even really there until much later, after I've abandoned the story - because nothing was happening, and it bored me - and have left it to sit for years.

There's obviously an element of one's own creativity that has to drive this phase of development, something that happens beneath your awareness and inspires you to type "and then he pulled the trigger" or whatever, even if you're not consciously planning for that to happen. There's something you want to write about, maybe, or something you want to examine. For a long time I thought I lacked that. I still do a bit, because the things I want to examine, as it turns out, are a little too lofty for fiction, probably more suited to... you know, I don't think there's a genre for it, even in non-fiction. It's closest to the creative essay, I suppose. And maybe I'm in denial, and that's really what I want to write anyway, since I seem to enjoy posting here far more than I enjoy working on new stories.

But anyway, characters. Stories. Revelations! They're few and far between, and not for lack of freewriting. I start a story; nothing happens. I get bored waiting for my characters to really show up, so to speak, and start thinking about other things which look more interesting. By the time an idea comes to me, I'm not willing to follow it; I jot it down and then ditch the story, because I don't feel it can work. It has no soul, or event, or conflict, or whatever you want to call the element that gives it life. It barely has a mouthpiece. More like a stick figure.

I asked myself why this happens, and there are two potential answers that have merit. Both are probably right to some extent.

First, I'm not willing to wait. Patience is not one of my virtues. When I'm confronted with this situation - say, my character is sitting at a table waiting for her friend - and there's an opportunity for her to do something, I sometimes take it... and sometimes don't. This might be the perfect time to... see, I don't know what I'd do if I were sitting in a coffee shop, waiting for someone to show up. I'd write, I guess. (Hilarious.) I wouldn't strike up a conversation with anyone or do anything interesting. I think staging a sudden robbery would be kind of stupid, and I'm not really interested in that kind of event in a story, sooooo... lack of things to do. But--

Secondly, I guess I have a harder time moving outside of myself than I thought. It's not that I always think only of what I would do (which is incredibly limited), but that when I try to imagine what someone like my mom would do, I still draw a blank. She'd talk to the barista, I guess, or to another customer. What else? Just now I thought maybe a certain kind of character would try to steal something, slip a granola bar in her purse when she's distracting the employees with an amusing story... but it took this entire entry for me to think of that, which takes me back to the first point: patience.

You know what's nice about fan fiction? You know what the characters will and will not do. If you take Sanaki to a coffee shop, you know (or can guess) what will happen, and who she would go with. You take a new character in, whom you've never met before, and... suddenly you have to sit there for an hour and figure it out.

This is just one of the ways fan fiction has spoiled me, I guess. But it isn't true across the board that you'll know; this post was inspired by sitting here and wondering what an existing character might do in a situation I set him in, and I actually don't know; I know nothing about his past to this point, and I still have to make all of that up. Patience.

It turns out that being anti-social most of my life is now a bit of a problem. I don't know what real people do. I need to overcome that hurdle (hopefully that won't involve talking to anyone), but sitting down and thinking long enough will probably help a lot. But I've had bad experiences in social contexts. There's some fear in the idea of talking to and getting to know strangers, but there's also a barrier created by years of having to look inward for understanding or even entertainment. When I meet someone, and do not immediately see something we have in common, something I would want to talk about for more than five minutes, I dismiss the entire idea of getting to know them. It won't be worth it, I think; what would we talk about? And why would we do it?

It's funny; while I'm not dismissing people as worthless - just as individuals I probably have nothing in common with - the fact that I do that mental turning-away probably does give the impression that I think they're not worth knowing. And sometimes, even if I think a person is worth knowing, I'm just not able or willing to overcome whatever hurdles there are between us. If you think I'm going to hobble around San Francisco on crutches, with no idea which bus line goes where, just for a study session with someone I barely know? You expect too much from me.

That situation is in the past, but I remember it well.


I do like non-fiction now that I've tried it seriously a few times. Maybe it's because I have this erroneous idea that my opinion on something matters, or is at least interesting. My life is boring now, but things happened in my childhood, and in my recent history, that are perhaps worth talking about. In addition, things like bullying/being bullied are incredibly relevant right now, and I have always felt strongly about issues like school violence for that reason. I try to avoid these topics because I feel like I'd just be wallowing in old angst, but maybe feeling my experiences aren't valid is a hurdle I have to overcome as well, for both fiction and non-fiction. Certainly, there are topics I don't think I can write reasonably about in a fictional world, because I find it so easy to slip into angsty, inactive characters. While it might be worth the exercise to resist that urge, I also think the creative essay medium might be more appropriate for some of them.

So... what would you do while waiting in a coffee shop for someone to show up? Besides getting a drink-- though that could be an adventure too, I guess? Or an opportunity for a monologue on the quality of coffee beans and roasting techniques.

This entry was originally posted at Discuss here or there as you prefer.

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Tags: challenge: 100 things, public: writing
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