I Like a Good Character


I’m going to skip the whole portion of this post that would involve apologizing for not having posted in so long. Mainly, I think no one who actually cares actually reads my blog. So I’ll just jump right in.

I’m currently reading a collection of short stories written by a former college classmate.  We took some writing classes together back when I was a creative writing major, and his stories captivated me more than anyone else because of their sheer imagination. So far, I don’t think his published collection holds a candle to some of his college writing. It’s like he hasn’t “found his voice” yet. As cliched as that sounds, it is so true and important. The collection reads like an experiment in exactly that. Each story is so different. The endings come when he feels as if he’s gone on too long and wraps it up too quickly.  There is too much “telling” and not enough “showing,” which was one of the main things I took away from our shared seminars. The whole thing makes me question whether I believe any longer that it’s even possible to teach someone how to write, beyond good grammar and punctuation, which there are editors for anyway. You need to know about story arcs, plot, climax, resolution. But if you have a good story to tell, those things are already built in. So really, you just need a good story. And that is what I am always looking for.

I thought I could actually be a novelist one day. Until one of my professors suggested I focus on juvenile fiction. Not that there’s anything wrong with juvenile fiction. Some of my all-time favorite books are ones written for younger audiences, and I don’t discount the possibility that I might be good at writing for a younger age group. Obviously, it’s a good group to target for huge money-making opportunities involving series and movie franchises — hello, Harry Potter and Hunger Games. But no aspiring writer wants to hear, essentially, that their mind functions on a junior high level, which is how I took it at the time. I don’t think I’m creative enough to come up with something kids would latch onto. I think I need to tell stories about people and their lives — stories that can only be appreciated by adults who have lived a while and come to learn some things about the way the world works.

Reading these stories by someone I learned writing skills alongside has made me want to revisit this far-fetched dream of mine to become a writer. That, and the sage advice I received from a self-proclaimed proselytizer, who told me many things about myself she could not have known, including the fact that I am a writer and creator and an artist who needs to focus on those things to find my calling and be truly happy. I do want to write. And unfortunately, there don’t seem to be enough non-working hours in the day to accomplish this. In “working hours” I include the time I spend talking to and being social with people so as not to become a complete hermit, which is a danger always lurking. I don’t know how people go about writing in their “spare time” and still maintain any kind of relationship. I barely have time to clean my house outside of everything else, and I never, ever get enough alone time for anything I want to focus on. When the fuck am I supposed to set aside time for writing??? It’s no wonder so many famous authors were alcoholic, semi-insane hermits who just holed themselves away with a typewriter. I can totally understand resorting to such behavior just to get it accomplished.

It’s just that I feel as if almost everyone I meet is a story that needs to be told in some way. Sometimes I think I am attracted to people based on the beauty of their story. Working a blue-collar job is so much fodder for my future novel, and I think about this daily. I’ve thought the same thing about pretty much every job I’ve ever had, because you encounter characters everywhere you go, and you spend a lot of time with the people you work with. It’s the same thing with living in low-rent areas. I like it for the stories I find, and it’s one way I find a positive outcome in my situation of being required to live in the semi-ghetto because it’s what I can afford. People who struggle to survive are much more interesting than people who don’t. I know everyone struggles in some way, but I find more concrete, beautiful truth in ordinary people than in those who don’t wish for much.

I tend to see most people as characters in books, unless I know them very, very well. This would seem counterproductive,  because a good character in a book is one the author knows very, very well. But I worry that if I ever actually write a book, the people I know best will be most obvious. And I don’t want that to end up meaning for me, as it did for Thomas Wolfe, that I can’t go home again. Or like Dan Humphrey on Gossip Girl, that I could alienate everyone I know by publicizing how I perceive them. Imagine the drama that would ensue, even if only snippets were based on fact? Everyone would question it. And I can’t stand having people mad at me. And there are people I can’t afford to lose. This is one reason I try not to get too close to new people most of the time. In the back of my mind, I’m thinking about how I can create a character out of them, and if we’re too close, I won’t want to. I wouldn’t be able to.

Maybe I will begin posting some stories here, just to get in the practice of putting them out into the world for people to read. I’d love to get comments — that would help me improve and give me more confidence about sending them out to publishers. My fear of rejection has held me back from many things for far too long.

One thing’s for sure: the bug is back!

3 Comments

  1. Aaron Lesher said,

    April 12, 2012 at 8:32 pm

    I read it, I care, AND…I would read your stories. +

  2. Vicky Roper said,

    April 13, 2012 at 2:49 am

    I’ve already determined that the whole car incident, from beginning to end (?) would be tv sitcom worthy!


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