At the end of a story, the main character usually has changed in some way. What about you as a writer – have you changed as well?
I found that getting to know characters as I write about them changes how I look at people in my daily travels. Not in some “he’s-lost-his-grip-on-reality” way, but by understanding how people change over time as life happens.
A while ago, I decided to add depth to one of my characters by making him an alcoholic. It would have been easier to stick to the scripted paths you see in countless TV shows, but as he grew in the story he felt too real (to me) for that to work. I wrote each scene with him normally, then made changes to his actions and emotions based on two desires – his need to atone for past mistakes, and the fear of succumbing to self-destructive habits. The results left me sensing a hint of fear behind my character’s decisions and brought forward his sometimes desperate push to maintain a sense of control, especially during stressful encounters.
Did I end up with an accurate portrayal? I can’t really say. I may not have nailed the struggle that alcoholics face each day, but I cannot deny that I think and feel differently about it.
Last Friday, I found myself a victim of the seasonal bug going around and most likely brought home by my daughter from her school. Fortunately it was only a cold and not one of the serious strains of influenza currently spreading like wildfire.
I ended up spending the expanded weekend curled up in my recliner instead of doing the list of things that normally take up my non-work time, including a Friday post or a few more scenes in my novel. I tried a couple of times to rally my mental troops but they were barely able to wave their tiny flags in support before the hordes of pro-blanket and chicken soup mauraders overran the camps.
During a moment of lucid thought, I wondered why none of my characters caught a cold or something? I mean, they were in the Midwestern plains during the winter! I did include a devastating flu epidemic that wiped out a lot of people, but that was primarily to explain why there weren’t so many people around anymore. Six years later, they should still be dealing with the ravages of Mother Nature like everyone else.
I grew up in that part of the world and can tell you from experience that the winters are not kind to man or beast. It was expected in some fashion that you would miss a few days of school due to a bad cold or possibly the flu. I remember being swaddled in a big quilt and lying on the couch, with the smell of Vicks Vapo-rub heavy in the air. Meals were either chicken noodle soup with crackers or, if your stomach was up for it, tomato soup (made with water, not milk) and a grilled cheese sandwich. Mom would be constantly yelling at me to “keep that thermometer in my mouth” and I would struggle to balance the glass rod so it stayed under my tongue without using my hands.
Now that I am on the mend, it is time to return to my writing. Be forewarned, my fictional town. Doc Grady will be busier than first expected as the coming winter sends a seasonal wave of sickness to fill his hospital beds. Probably won’t be a major epidemic, but just enough coughing and runny noses to keep things hopping.
I guess getting a cold was good for me and my writing after all.
Filed under REBOOT, Writer