Monday, September 17, 2007

Has This Happened to You?

Reader # 1 looked at draft#2 and said, I'm 95% there. What's still missing is the protagonist's soul lay bare. Okay, they're my words, but that's what she meant. In a short story, there is no time for this but it's essential in a novel unless I want my protagonist to seem like a sociopath, which doesn't make sense in light of her actions. She's dark but not that dark.
I am finding this very difficult to do. Do your characters ever elude you to the very end of the book (story)? Do you feel you know them but can't quite find a way to imbed this information artfully? First reader says to write (by hand) a monologue where she tells me about herself, all walls down. Ask her questions and write her response.
How do you get the inside out with your writing or is it only me who finds this difficult?

12 comments:

Sandra Ruttan said...

I was here earlier, thought about it, went away and thought some more, and still don't feel I have anything particularly helpful, other than to say read Ken Bruen's Jack Taylor series.

Here's my 2 cents on it. If it's a series, you don't necessarily do this, or at least, not in the same way. But if it's a standalone book, it all has to pour out on the pages. I don't know if a character Q&A is the way to go or not - I think different things will work for different people. But in terms of in the book, making it come through, it's usually a situation in which the character has an extreme emotional reaction. I'm not fond of books that use narrative to be too 'telling' about a character's emotional state - I prefer to see it born out in their lives, but it's hard to say what would work best without knowing more about the character and the book.

Good luck.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Sandra. It will probably be a standalone. I just can't get my mind around how to do it---actually thought I had.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I tend to lay my own soul bare in my writing so it usually works out that my characters do the same. I am having trouble getting inside the mind and motivation of this 18 year old girl I'm writing about and I think a monologue or just general free-writing about her might help me get a better handle on her.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I know this sounds strange but sometimes I find it easier to write about someone of the opposite sex. I don't feel as personally exposed by it. I feel liberated by the idea that this is a person soley of my creation. Or else there's a lot of male in me.

john mcauley said...

Hmm... I'm willing to chance asking a stoopid question: How well does this character have to know herself? And won't readers know her well enough via her words/actions? Ok, that's two questions, but it's the 2 I kept coming back to while indulging myself with a trip to Halo Burger this morning.
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

Oh, boy, John, is that ever the six million dollar question. My husband feels it's all there already. My reader (okay my daughter) feels I need to lay her bare more. I take this to heart because I took a workshop once with Ursula Hegi and her critique of my work was the same. I veer away from getting inside my character's heads.
You know I've never had a Halo burger. Is it something I should try as a Michigander.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I lean a bit more in John's camp. My writing isn't about me, it's about the characters, and each of them will process things differently. Some bottle everything up inside. Some blow.

What I think is more compelling is showing a person going right to the edge. For example... someone who's generally more of a pacifist being thrust into circumstances where they are tempted (or actually do) take another person's life. In the same way that less is more with violence and what is inferred off the page, it can be true emotionally. Say the above scenario is the one used: Do I need for Molly to spend three pages of narrative thinking, "Oh my God, I killed a man. This is not something I could ever imagine doing..." blah blah blah, or is it enough for her to drop the gun, wrap her arms around her legs and weep?

Sometimes, the latter is far more compelling because we project our own emotions into the situation.

Of course, the real shock could be the fact that she feels no guilt about killing the person...

I find it easier to deal with men in writing as well. The main thing is that I find so many make women whiny or overly emotional to the point of being irrational and unlikeable. I guess I really don't like books that overplay the emotions, and this may explain why I love male protagonists - they do instead of obsessing about stuff.

john mcauley said...

Patti: Funny,but the vividness of your characters is one of the things I enjoy most about your shorter work. Strictly from memory, [my 'puter's kinda'wonky today so I can't go back and re-read the story,] the m.c. in a story you had up at HARDLUCK was VERY vivid; no mean feat in such a short piece. As was the young girl in your story where her father worked for a "minister." [Bit of a side note--The way you had the "minister" ask god to forgive the girl for tempting him was brilliant; a great insight in to the minds of people who do terrible things and find ways to blame it on their victims.]
Re: Halo Burger...Family owned for 80yrs, 11 locations in the metro Flint area and truly some of the best burgers in the country. [B.t.w., their main supplier is Abbots Meat,lol.] And their Boston Coolers, [vanilla ice ream with Vernors] are awesome!
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

The only place I've seen Halo burgers (And is it Halo like the hat angels wear or Halo with the other a) is outside Frankenmuth and we always debate having one and decide to do the chicken thing or go to Tony's on I-75 and get our pound of bacon. I guess this character is more remote than most and that's where it's coming from.
I guess there will always be a difference in what works in terms of characters showing their insides. This is more suspense and less hard-boiled and I think that's where the trouble arises.

john mcauley said...

Maybe you guys could do Halo Burger for lunch, a walk around Frankenmuth afterwards, and then chicken for dinner?

I've eaten at Tony's several times; impressive quantity,marginal quality, but I sure did clean my plate.

As far as the book/character: Do what ya think ya gotta' do to finish it-then get it in to the hands of every agent on your list.
Then start writing the next book:)
John McAuley

pattinase (abbott) said...

That's the plan. Getting an agent may take quite a long time--if ever. But published or not, I'm glad I tried it. A lot of learning took place. Thanks. Halo next time we're up there for sure.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I'm from Flint so I have to heartily recommend the Halo Burger. Mmmmmm...