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Saturday, September 19, 2009

I Hear Voices

I've been diligently working on the sequel to Stream Pirate for the past two-ish weeks. I plotted it all out, start to end. I drew out a timeline of events. All's well -- that is, until I started writing it. It took me 8,000-and-some-odd-words before I realized something.

I'd written 8,000-and-some-odd-words in the wrong voice.

Before I decided to switch gears and aim for a Stream Pirate sequel, I was plucking away at White Like Ashes. For whatever reason, I decided everything I'd written was crap and that I should focus my energy on that sequel. But today I got frustrated (for the umpteenth time) and decided to open my White Like Ashes file, just for kicks and grins. And you know what I discovered? Well, two things, actually.

1) It didn't suck nearly as much as I'd let myself believe.

2) The reason I was getting so, so frustrated with the SP sequel was because I was writing it in Evan's voice (White Like Ashes MC) not Lu's (Stream Pirate MC).

Thus, I decided I was trying to tell myself something. Was I a normal person, the conversation would have gone like this:

"I should work on White Like Ashes, not Stream Pirate Sequel."

Because I'm not normal, it went like this:

Me: God, Stream Pirate Sequel SUCKS.
Self: Haha.
Me: You did something. What? Why? How?
Self: Haha.
Me: Gah! Why does it suck? WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO TELL ME??
Self: *snort*
Me: You're enjoying this too much. I'm going to ignore you and re-read that great mess I called another attempted WIP.
Self: Haha *snort*
Me: Oh-- wait-- this, this is decent. And Evan sounds awfully familiar...
Self: HA
Me: Dude! Evan wants me to keep working on her story!
Self: Yay, we win! Now bring me chocolate.

Thus, I shall work on White Like Ashes until I either finish it or Evan gets out of my head enough for Lu to get back in.

This situation made me think, though. As writers, we flip through voice after voice after voice, whether it be our MC's or secondary characters we're just trying to figure out. After years of story writing, it becomes almost second-nature to assume someone else's identity and "get in their head" (even though they're in ours...it's a weird loop). This ability to take on multiple roles and understand them to the point of being able to see why an MC would make certain decisions should make us very good people, um, people.

I, however, know the complete opposite is true for me. People terrify me. Not in a can't-ever-leave-the-house kind of way, but more sort of a wow-this-will-be-EXHAUSTING kind of way. Even though I can read people frighteningly well and should, in theory, be a very good people-person, I'm just -- not. And all these issues over proper character voices made me wonder why.

With the characters in my head, they're MINE. They aren't some random strangers walking past me on my way to class. They're people I've crafted and researched and molded, people I've spent large chunks of my time creating. And they won't ridicule me if I screw up (er, well, they don't ridicule me a lot). They don't -- can't -- leave if they get tired of me. They're very much stuck with me, and on most levels, they're under my control.

That, I think, is the single biggest difference between "real" people and the characters we fit ourselves into: control. We can be so comfortable with "our" people because that's just it -- they're ours. We give them traits and habits that have to follow certain pre-established human boundaries/stereotypes, but other than that, we have control. They can't do anything we don't see coming (usually).

But real people? They, too, have to fit into the certain pre-established human boundaries/stereotypes (like people who slouch, avoid eye contact, and mumble are generally shy/afraid/have low self-esteem), but outside of that, they can do ANYTHING. Anything. I don't know about you, but part of the reason I like writing so much is that I KNOW what's going to happen next. But real people? No idea. None at all. And that is what is truly terrifying.

Not knowing what people will do is one of the reasons being around large groups of people is so draining. I'm constantly trying to guess what they'll do next, what will happen, so I have some storyline to grasp onto (this also goes back to my need to be prepared). I realize how irrational this is; I can't possibly KNOW what will happen next, and trying to guess, over and over, until it exhausts me is just silly. What's a girl to do, then?

Instead of looking at everyone as people I'm trying to make into MY characters, I think it would be much healthier (and less stressful) to look at people as THEIR OWN characters. Maybe people would be a lot less terrifying if I treated them as a story I'm watching unfold, not a story I'm trying to unfold. If I just sat back, relaxed, and let the story happen.

It's absolutely easier said than done, but maybe, just maybe, it would help make a people-person out of this writer.


Natalie Whipple said...

I find this post very interesting. Maybe because I don't feel like I know my own characters as well. Or maybe I'm just crazier than you.

They are constantly surprising me—just as much as regular people. And I'm never quite sure what they're going to do next. But I also don't feel like I have to control them...so maybe that's what it comes down to.


Mariah Irvin said...

I wish I could control my characters! Sometimes I have the sense that they are mine, but then they do something completely unexpected like they're a real person and I'm writing a story about them.

lisa and laura said...

Hmm...sometimes I think real people are easier managed than our characters. Just depends on the day, I guess!