In my analysis of why I haven’t been writing anything satisfying, I came to a couple of worthwhile conclusions. Let me share one here.
A good story can be defined as: “An interesting character with an interesting problem”. Vague, I know but hey, defining what a story is, isn’t as easy as you might think. Now I used ‘interesting’ twice there and I’ll get to that in a future post but I want to focus on the character part.
Without an interesting character, I have a hard time writing. With an interesting character, I have a hard time NOT writing. For me, creating someone and them letting them loose is the best kind of exploratory writing. I can create vivid, realistic, well-rounded characters in my head. Then I just let them loose in a situation, that’s how some of my favorite stories (mine and other people’s) work.
However, for the last few months, I haven’t actually sat down and CREATED anyone. I think that’s where all my flailing came from, or part of it at least. And for me, without a compelling character, I don’t have anything to latch onto. I have this issue in movies, as well. If I don’t care about the main character, I am not going to care about the movie. One of the things Iron Man 3 (and the entire Downey Iron Man franchise) did well was it created a character that I wanted to watch. Because of that, I was willing to go along with an unconventional superhero story and even enjoy it. Compare that to Michael Bay’s Transformers or the new Lone Ranger movie…when your main character is annoying or goofy idiot (And that covers both character leads), I don’t care about anything that happens to them. In fact, I hope BAD things happen to them…which never does occur, much to my sadness.
So, on Monday, I sat down to interview some characters. I mean that quite literally, I created an interviewer persona and interviewed three characters. Now, I had NO idea who I was going to talk to, at first. In fact, my first line of faux dialog was me (the interviewer) asking, “What is your name?” He answered “Sam. The E is silent”. And it went from there. I ended up talking to a vivid, brute of an ex-cop who works as a dirty PI. I had no idea what to expect and…out he came and the more I talked to him, the more vivid he became. Now, when the time comes, I can bring Sam(e) back as a main character or a NPC or an antagonist. Second character, I decided to talk to a female private eye, so I did the same thing, this time starting the interviewer out with a compliment. I ‘said’, “you look nice” and she responded back with something like, “Thanks, everything I own is either tight or short” and I could see the grin on her face. This was someone who didn’t apologize for dressing well and when I ‘talked’ to her, her intelligence and manipulative nature came out, so did her loyalty to her friends and her ability to see past surface appearance. I thought that was interesting for someone so good looking, but it sorta made sense. But I realized I’d written to modern-day (more or less) noir type characters. I wanted to write something different. I wanted to write some sci-fi.
That’s what I did different for my last ‘interview’. I told myself I was going to interview someone from a sci-fi story. I fixed in my mind the kind of story, even: an alien invasion story. And, the funny thing is, I ended up interviewing…basically an alien, coming to Earth** to warn us about an impending alien invasion, one who decided to stay and help us. And as I interviewed him, I realized I was actually telling a superhero story. Unexpected and very cool AND…this is important…exactly the kind of story I wanted to read.
That’s something I mess up on, sometimes. So desperate to be a professional writer am I, that I start writing stories I think will SELL and not stories I want to read. That’s a hard balance to strike and it can become a blocking issue for me.
Anyway, I have some characters now, next I have to create the world for them to stand on. This is going to be a lot of work, too, but you know what….it’s worth it. Give the interview a try if you get stuck, if you're like me, once you have a character, everything else starts sorting itself out.
*Except when it starts with something else.
**actually moved it off Earth to a colony world