Saturday, June 4, 2011

question of character

So, yesterday I posted some of the questions the kids at Newbury Park High School asked me.

I didn't think I'd actually be expected to answer them.

But I'll try -- and I'll try to put the answers here that closely match the ones I gave the kids (with fewer ums and uhs).

I realize I say "Um" and "Uh" a lot when I talk.

It kind of bothers me.

Anyway, the first question was about how to make characters seem deeper, more genuine. The boy who asked said something about how he struggled with making the characters in his writing multidimensional and believable.


Well, first off, I think the boy asking the question was stating a conditional reality of youth and developing oneself as a writer. Since characters are going to ultimately reflect the depth of experience of the writer behind them -- and given that kids don't often have a wide range of experience interacting with a lot of different kinds of people (a condition made worse in light of the technological isolation most middle class families and their kids impose on themselves) -- character development is bound to be a difficult and bumpy process.

Not always, though.

I really like my characters.

Even the bad ones.

Even the horrible ones.

I try to make the "bad guys" do something, or have a fleeting display of some submerged personal quality, that I find admirable or attractive. At the very least, I try to create situations where I feel sorry for the bad guys. I definitely feel sorry for what happens to Freddie in Conner's truck in The Marbury Lens, and I have similar "moments" with my bad guys in my other novels, too.

At the same time, I always try to make my "good guys" do bad things, or even make choices that piss me off and would sometimes threaten my attachment to them.

The boy went on to ask if I entirely made up my characters, or if they were based on people that I know, or on me.

And, in all cases, I said, my characters are ALL parts of people that I've actually known -- shallow, complex, good, bad, selfish, and selfless -- and every one of them has something to do with me, too.

I know there are plenty of writers out there who just entirely make things up when it comes to character development, but... um... I'm not one of them.