Sunday, October 20, 2013

An Arch-Nemesis

A writer friend of mine posted something on her blog about the need for one’s arch-nemesis to reveal themselves.  I argued in a reply that she wouldn’t want that to happen.  It would be much better not to know.  What do you think?  Would you rather know someone is out to get you or be in the dark about it?

Why Do You Like Me?
(By Diane Vallere, Shoes Clues And Clothes website, 16 February 2010)

Chances are, if you're reading this, then there's something about me or my writing that you like (or you think I'm your arch-nemesis, in which case YOU HAVE TO TELL ME! Because I always thought it would be fun to have an arch-nemesis but seriously, you can't have one that wants to remain anonymous). Maybe we went to school together once. Maybe we worked together at some point or became friends along the way. Maybe we share writerly commiseration on a Yahoo group. Or maybe you're family.

No matter what the reason, you're here, and I'm here, so, like I said, I'm guessing you like me. What I'm curious about is Why. Is it because I'm driven? Afraid of department-store Santas? Sometimes rely on packing tape to secure the hem of my designer clothes?

Don't get me wrong. Give me five minutes and I could rattle off a hundred likeable things about me, but that's not how it works, right? You don't like me because I told you to, you found something about me that you related to and that's what it's all about. That elusive connection.

A writer makes up people and makes up their lives, and aside from plot and description and dialogue and voice, has to figure out a way to make readers connect with the characters. The hard thing is, the connection between the writer and the characters is innate. The writer created these people. Trust me, if you're spending time writing 2,000 words a day about make-believe folks, you darn well better like them. But this means you have blinders on. Liking your characters is a natural for you, so imagine how it feels when someone else tells you they just didn't connect with them?

There's an exercise that's suggested to writers who are trying to expose their characters quirks and flaws: list 20 things that are unique about that character. Inevitably, you'll stall out before you hit ten, and you really have to start thinking about details that shaped her (or him) that might never hit the page of your manuscript, but that help you figure out the kind of person she (or he) is. Did she play the drums in high school, or the trombone, or sing in the chorus? Was she a cheerleader or did she try out five different times and never make the squad? Does she like Elvis? How much? So much that she'll sit in an uncomfortable theater seat all night for a King film festival? And when did she start really liking Elvis?  Did her parents take her to one of his concerts when she was a kid, or did she date an impersonator during college?

These details expose the character's character. Make this same list about yourself. Think about those little known facts that make you who YOU are, that maybe nobody knows. They don't have to know the details. Those facts shaped who you are and made you the person that other people respond to. The rest of the world doesn't need to know those facts to see the person you are. That's how it is with writing. Only, the more pressing question is this: how do you get this interesting and endearing information across on the page without an information dump?

Here's the thing. I love my characters. I love Samantha Kidd. I love Mia Thomas and Lisa P. Grace and Pepper St. James. I don't know that much about Dena Martin and Brooks Foster but I can already tell I'm going to like them once we get down into their story. I spend enough time with these people that, in a weird way, they're like friends, only make-believe.

And because you like me, I want you to like my imaginary friends. It's only fair that we should all get along.

Richard’s Reply:
(19 February 2010)

Well, we did go to school together and I do like the fact that you are driven because it is hard to watch someone keep pushing along and not be motivated to do the same yourself.  If I was your arch-nemesis though, I’m not sure I should tell you that.  Consider this fact: when things go bad in life normally, you can chalk it up to the random whims of an impartial universe and figure stuff happens and hope the convergence of events never happens again.  If you have an arch-nemesis, you know that bad things don’t happen randomly.  Instead it is the evil machinations of one particular person who is out to get you.  All you have to do is keep an eye out for traps and situations created by the person.  The problem is that every thing that now happens to you could be an insidious plot by your arch-nemesis and you have to always be on guard.  Gone are the carefree days of mildly worrying about random circumstances occurring and it’s replaced by the massive stress of how your misdelivered mail could be part of huge conspiracy to kill, denounce or entrap you. 

Wouldn’t you rather not know that there is an arch-nemesis out there gunning for you?  Consider it a rare gift from an evil-doer who likes you for whatever reason and instead just worry about the low probability events in life.  The mailman accidentally put your mail in the wrong box, that just looks like the same car that was behind you yesterday as well and that dead body in the closest was the result of an unfortunate accident you had nothing to do with so please call the cops and report the dead guy like a good citizen would. 

As for your characters, I can’t say if I like them because I’ve never seen a sample of your writing.  I would have to like them based simply on them being some extension of you, which is usually the case with writing.  Even if they aren’t exactly like the writer, they have to come from the same place.  If you can’t imagine a particular world, you can’t describe the inhabitants of that world.  It has to exist somewhere in you, either as an extension of you or as a contrast to you and your values and morals.  That’s why die-hard Christians can’t rationally discussion evolution- because they can’t imagine themselves in that world.  It simply does not exist for them. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go plan some “random” events.  Good night!


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