Thursday, April 17, 2008

One Writer, One Character, No Imagination

I’ve been rooting through old writings of mine, dusty notebooks in slightly unfamiliar handwriting, documents in ancient computer font, and I’ve discovered that apparently, I’ve just got the one protagonist. And man, is she busy. She appears in a story about a run-down apartment in Cincinnati overrun with cockroaches; she’s in a halfway finished novel about a girl who thinks she has met Nancy Drew in real life; she goes to Portland after college to establish her new life in a positively gripping coming-of-age novel; and, imagine my surprise when she pops up in the book I’m now writing about a teenage girl forced to moved to a cohousing development.

She’s white, middle class, relatively smart albeit naive, dry sense of humor, a bit in her head, a bit insecure…hey, wait a minute, she sounds strangely familiar…

How do people do it? How do you write a character that is not you? Am I so egotistical that I cannot put myself in someone else’s shoes long enough to write a five fricking page story?

But, really, if good writing is authentic detail, the ring of truth, then writing someone who is different from you is just guesswork, shots in the dark, right? I think this character would like a blueberry muffin for breakfast, but I KNOW that I like Raisin Bran, and could describe the perfect ratio of crunchy flake to sugary raisin, and how disappointing it is when you take a bite and realize too late that there are about four too many raisins. I don’t know the ring of truth for a muffin. I guess I could make one up, but it sounds like a lot of work.

An agent once told me that every writer’s first book is in some way autobiographical. I nodded; I said, “Mmmm sure that makes sense;” I made a note in my spiral. I didn’t think it would all of a sudden be ten years later and I would not have been able to shake my doppelganger protagonist.

Maybe she has something to tell me that I still haven’t gotten. Maybe once a story of mine reveals that I actually understand her, I’ll be able to move on. She’ll just disappear, walk into the light like the ghosts do after Jennifer Love-Hewitt helps them cross over in The Ghost Whisperer.


Miles Inada said...

Wait, maybe YOU are a character-ghost that Jennifer Love Hewitt freed many years ago. . . Hmmm, that would explain me as well.

Wakefield said...

This is a study in self-examined genius! I'm wetting myself over here.