My first tweet of the day:
My protagonist already a bit different than originally envisioned; you don’t know who your people are until you start to write them.
Or at least I don’t. I can make all the notes I want, brainstorm, write up elaborate backstories, pick apart their psychology, deliberately choose bits of personality from the people in my life who capture my interest and/or imagination, but until I sit down and flesh them into being through actually writing the damn novel do I start to get a true sense of who my characters are: how they act and react and talk and love and argue and dress themselves and decorate their domestic domiciles and whatever. It’s then that I start to develop my ‘mindset’ for each character — the frame of mind I slip into when I take on their perspective. Sometimes that mindset is immediate (my character Del in BLOODANGEL sprang from my forehead like Zeus, fully formed) and sometimes it takes several drafts (my villian Asha from the same novel was difficult, as was young Ramsey, who turned out, judging from reader reaction, to be the best-liked character in the book).
“All these characters,” said my therapist — I’m getting divorced and I live in Bel Air, you think I wouldn’t have a therapist? — “are you,” which seems obvious enough but is still an interesting thing to think about. By incorporating some of my friends into my fiction — if in small doses — am I just expressing or discovering new aspects of my own personality? Am I forming new grooves in my brain — which scientists are discovering is continually remaking itself** — and thus altering myself just a little? You try to understand other people through understanding yourself, you try to understand yourself through understanding other people…Fiction is the tool through which you can enlarge your own consciousness.
My protagonist of THE DECADENTS, Gabe, was originally meant to be a screenwriter. He became an artist instead, because I’m interested in art and wanted the challenge of developing an education, career and body of work for him. Also, I think — like legions of writers before me — that in some ways it’s more interesting to talk about art than about writing***, or rather, talking about art can be another way of talking about writing. That change in vocation made him more sensual, alive to textures and colors and materials and patterns of light, changed the perspective through which he filters the world. Maybe because of that — partly because of that, and his early success — he became more flirtatious, socially confident and reckless than I expected, although he’s too guarded, empathic and intimacy-avoidant to be a ‘player’. He’s still articulate and well-read, prone to spells of quiet, still moody and observant. He has a good sense of humor. I adore him, which is a good sign, since you need to adore your characters, including your villians. You need to have enough fascination with your ‘good’ characters to know why they sometimes do bad things, and you need to have enough compassion for your ‘bad’ characters to know why they sometimes do good things and see themselves as the heroes in their own privately unfolding movies (no villian ever regards himself or herself as a villian, unless it’s in a cool, anti-hero kind of sense).
I enjoy writing from the male perspective, shifting into my ‘male’ mode. I’m not one of those people who consider girls and boys to be essentially the same — I think the evidence is in, and girl brains are different from boy brains and evolved along different routes toward the same goal (reproduction of the genes). I’m fascinated by the male perspective because I find it a little exotic. A little alien. At the same time, I can relate to it, maybe because I always felt myself to have a strong masculine side (while still comfortable — and even luxuriating — in my woman-skin). But I’m reminded of something the ridiculously gifted novelist Zadie Smith said in a talk at UCLA when someone asked about her ability to write characters of a different race and class. Zadie said that in her opinion it’s more difficult to write someone from the other sex than from a different race, that men are men and women are women and the greatest cultural chasm lies between the two sexes. I suspect that’s true.
* using male pronoun here because my protag. is a guy
** brains in general, I mean, not just mine in particular, despite its apparent oddities
*** Stephen King leaps to mind as a brilliant exception to this. His book MISERY, which I read on my parents’ living room couch when I was 13 or 14, made me realize that I would spend my life writing fiction, not because I wanted to but because of what I was; I recognized myself in that book. I still reread parts of it, still consider it one of the best books on writing ever.