Archive | June, 2012

Some thoughts on characters and ourselves

19 Jun

Our characters lead our novels. So when your main character is given a car as a gift, instead of a card, the actions and consequences change. If in the car draft, the characters say a tearful goodbye as one drives away, then in the card draft, the characters fight and never want to speak to each other again. In both stories, you are being true to the characters. You aren’t playing with their lives – they are. It reminds me of that quote about the butterflies wings impacting the world. Can such a thing be true? And absolutely true in the world of a novel? Is the world of a novel a microcosm of our world?

For instance, you can completely change an entire character’s attitude development by introducing a new character. Is this the same in real life? Can the people we meet – even once – have such profound impacts on us? Are our lives so malleable? Is our success and outcomes the result of mere chance on the part of fate? Of course, I can’t credit fate with the entire outcome. Into the equation is factored our attitudes and health, our environments, our views on fate and other worldly matters.  But, aren’t those also factored into our characters’ lives?


In my recent rewrites, I have changed the car to a card. I have introduced a new character. Now the trajectory of the entire last half of the novel no longer rings true. In essence, the main characters have changed; they have changed in relation to the world that impacts them. Thus, I now have to write an entire new story – one that allows them to become the people they were meant to be – even if that means they fail where once they succeeded. And all the while, I wonder about my own life and those little incidents that bring us onto completely new paths. But unlike a novel, I do not get to delete and start again. In some ways, that is better, because I have to use what has already happened as a factor in who I become as a person (and my response to that action). My characters get clean starts, if they want them. I do not. My characters, however, only have a finite life inside a finite world. I do not believe their world lives on any more than what the reader brings to it. My life as a person continues in a way that is not representative of “entertainment.” I do not have to sell books of my own life. My characters, however, have to sell books of their lives. So they need to be interesting and worthy of magnification. They need moments of concise drama, whereas my life is about dilution of drama where any exists. There are many ways in which we are different from our characters. But what I believe holds true is the ability of some minor encounter to change our entire life trajectory – or story. So to quote a line from one of my favorite Foals songs, “The future isn’t what it used to be.” And in that, we can go on.