Saturday, March 20, 2010

Character Study

Years ago, I had the opportunity to work with a very successful script doctor/screenwriting advisor, after completing a successful deal with my dad. Let me explain the deal scenario first. Growing up (and maybe many years beyond the growing-up phase), deals were the stock and trade in my family. If my parents wanted something from their (perhaps greedy and opportunistic) children, they instituted a deal to obtain whatever it was they sought. And likewise, if we children wanted something, we’d negotiate to see what we’d have to do to get it. Now, before you parents out there think my parents were pushovers, these deals didn’t involve basic chores and such; they were for the big things. And my parents weren’t above suckering us into becoming well-rounded, achieving types of kids. The truth is, they were experts in motivating us to push to complete goals by manipulating the inherent greed of teenagers (and beyond).

So, where does this fit with my opportunity to work with a professional script doctor? Well, my dad wanted me to learn his favorite hobby that involved some of the most boring, geeky, technical knowledge ever in the history of the world... I even had to take tests. But, I was greedy and have a lot of initiative, so I passed tests and triumphed (and then proceeded to hide said knowledge from as many people as I could). But that knowledge got me to a restaurant in LA, where I sat down with the script doctor to discuss my script.

Now, those looking for great inspiration should lower their expectations immediately, because I quit writing for three years after this meeting, but, hey, life is a winding road and all.

At this lunch meeting (which lasted about three hours and felt very much like an interrogation Jack Bauer style), the script doctor asked many questions, which included probing for details about characters and character motivations, what I thought of the characters’ actions, and which characters I equated with the most. By the end of lunch, I felt as though I should be able to bill my insurance for the therapy I hadn’t expected to receive and wasn’t all that certain I’d been looking for.

But none of this drove me from the writing process, it was the rewrite that did. At that time, I wasn’t ready to just start over, like I am now. I do complete rewrites without thinking anything of it. And this willingness to keep on putting words on the page is, to me, the real symbol of being a writer, regardless of where my books ultimately end up.

Now, back to characters and character studies. I now understand as I didn’t then that we writers are part of every character we write, from the sweetest and most huggable to the most sinister imaginable. There is some part of us that empathetically links with all of them. And anyone who looks around at the world knows that even the most devout people can be overwhelmed with an addiction to power that drives to great ugliness. Kind people can be intentionally nasty. And in order to be right, many people will step on even those who clearly can’t defend themselves. And that’s the darkness, but there is also light. People are heroes in the course of the common place. They dedicate their time to others, hold doors for each other, smile at strangers, and give because their hearts fill in doing so.

And all of this is not only why I love writing, reading, and characters, but also people in general. We are a fascinating, enigmatic bunch, to be sure. We have moments of great clarity and understanding one day and are blindsided by the commonplace the next. We are the reasons why the stereotypes never can tell the whole story. In our characters, we think to build the reasons why the characters believe as they do and act as they do, but we are the same. Our lives have made us who we are, and the amazing beauty of that is that we have the ability to change, to grow if we really want to, just as our characters do.

Certainly, our characters can wrap things up by the end after a stunning climax, but our journeys are much longer in scope and greater in detail. We sometimes don’t know where the climaxes are until after they are over, nor the people we connect with who are destined to become important to us.

It definitely makes me want to be a good friend to my core group of friends and keep them in my life, because it is with their help that I find the patterns underlying my life and have the ability to choose who I am and who I want to be. So, I thank the people who listen without judgment, suggest with a gentle hand, and care enough to understand even when they don’t. No character or character study could ever be complete without giving the friends their due.

Quote for the Day from Bernard Meltzer

"A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Balance, Grasshopper

Balance is a thing that has always been elusive to me, like Tiffany earrings behind the glass case. I could stare at balance, yearn for it even, but never get close to reaching it. And lately, it’s become clear to me that I’m getting closer... entirely by accident.

Recently, after writing one night, I sorta freaked out because I’m not writing with the same fervor (writing forty to sixty hours a week beyond my day job) as I used to. Sure, I write every single day and haven’t taken a day off in almost two years, but I suddenly felt like a total slacker. And panicked. What if I was giving up on my goals, cashing it all in because this is a slow, difficult process? Was I a quitter? A failure? A useless literary toad in a world of butterflies and soaring eagles?

At the height of my panic, I reached for the phone and a trusty friend. She answered, listened as I rambled... and then she laughed.

“What?” I demanded.

“Let me get this straight,” she said. “You work your butt off, write like twelve books in two years, edit some of them, market them, deal with rejection, never take a day off, and you’re worried you’ve become a slacker?”

“Uh huh.”

More laughter and then, “I never thought I would say this to you, but I think you’re becoming a balanced person.”

And then I laughed. “Of all the things I’ve ever been called, balanced is a new one.”

The truth is, my friend is right. I am becoming a more balanced person. I still love to write and count telling stories as the best part of my day, but it isn’t the end all be all of my entire existence. I blogged recently (sort of) about coming up with new epic quests, and that is what I am working on when not obsessing over my writing. I still write daily, because that is when I check in with my happy place, but my writing sessions don’t have time requirements or word count guidelines. I write and experience that familiar rush each and every time. And maybe I treasure it all the more because my writing isn’t all that I am doing.

I’ve set new goals for myself that aren’t written in stone, that don’t involve the rejection inherent in marketing my writing, and that involve me getting off my behind and out into the world. Goals that don’t rely on others to fulfill. That’s the difficult thing about goals like writing. You can work on your craft, edit till the cows come home, market, and there are no guarantees of anything resembling success finding you. It’s almost the perfect form of torture for a control freak like me. And yet, I’m a happier person for that torture than I’ve ever been in my life. So, giving up? Never. Getting new adventures to supplement my writing passion and to make my life a more interesting journey? Definitely.

Hey, I’ve even started turning on the television to watch Professional Bull Riding (Congrats Austin Meier for winning Kansas City) competitions on a regular basis. It freaked the dogs out a little at first, but now they equate bull riding with cuddle time.

I also believe wholeheartedly that the more time we spend in the world, the more adventures we have, and the more people we connect with, the better our storytelling will be. And though I am more balanced in my life, please keep your fingers crossed because my dream agent is looking at some of my work.

Quote for the Day from By the River Piedra I Sat Down and Wept by Paulo Coelho

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.”