Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hurts So Bad


Gabriella Herkert

Catnapped and Doggone

When a character suffers, do I? When a tree falls in the wood and no one hears it, does it fall? I love a good philosophical conundrum.

Contrary to a widely held belief, particularly by those who’ve met me and experienced, first hand, my fast and filleting tongue, I am not Sara. I’m not actually any of the characters I’ve ever written. So, while I strive to live in her head and speak with her voice, strangely like mine, I am not living her life. She does suffer – from insecurities I don’t share, from personal issues I’ve never had and from gun shots that have never been fired in my direction. That’s the physical. I don’t suffer with Sara. She suffers with me.

I am not a Siamese twin with my character but I can’t sit down and write a scene and leave my actual world behind completely. I know that fiction is imagination. There are lots of things that end up in the story that I haven’t personally experienced. But the emotions, they come from somewhere. For example, a bad negotiation for me at work, one with a pinstriped elitist lawyer working for a corporate behemoth morphs into a character taking a swing at a patronizing witness with scary social connections. The character might get arrested but bail can be resolved in Monopoly money and I don’t personally do any hard time. I’m also ready to take on pinstripe pin head in Round 2. A lawyer and a business guy who spend months wasting my time with the endless refrain of everyone else rolls over every time we call ends up as a composite character with a pitchfork sticking out of their chest. It’s a grisly, if satisfying, way to vent my professional spleen. They may be two-dimensional imaginary friends, but they always make me feel better. Even when they have to be sacrificed at the altar of my anger.

On the other hand, I can become fond of characters. I end up liking some of them in a way that makes it difficult to put them in the cross hairs of whatever plot I might be cooking. I may hesitate but I don’t avoid their pain. I am trying to write smart characters. My protagonist has resources, both internal and external, that I can only envy. Her husband is both tough under pressure and tender beyond my scope. Russ Smith, best friend, is funnier and more loyal than my crazy dog. I’m not worried about them. My imaginary friends have proven that they can take anything my evil brain can throw their way. What’s more, they can surprise me while they’re doing it. They can even do so with style and heaven knows they aren’t getting that from me.

I have been working on something new. In it, for the first time, I sacrificed a character I liked, one I empathized with and wanted to survive. But he couldn’t. It didn’t make sense in the context of the story and my wanting him alive compromised my killer’s wanting him dead. Needing him dead. The truth is I empathize with my murderer, too. He’s the most complicated psychological character I’ve ever attempted and his transgressions, great though they may be, aren’t without emotional balance. I felt bad for both of them. One for becoming collateral damage in a plot not of his making and the other for the life, the back story, that made him become the man he is. It wasn’t suffering I felt. It was sympathy. It was recognition. It was compassion. And when it came time for the death, it was done.

I can only hope that my readers respond the same way to my characters and my stories. I don’t want them to feel pain. I don’t want them to suffer. I want them – you – to believe. For that, I have to feel. The characters have to feel. And hopefully you can feel, too.

Thanks for reading -- and don't forget Meredith Cole's new book Dead in the Water is now available. I can't wait to get mine.

Gabi

7 comments:

Sophie Littlefield said...

hey G,
I loved "the altar of your anger" - that sent me spinning in a whole tangent. I was thinking about how often that is true for me, that characters serve as the embodiment of the venting I can't or won't do in real life - they are the standard-bearers of my rage. I think women are so relentlessly schooled not to express anger that when we are in a creative place, that's the one that most desperately wants to escape. Obviously that's not true for all women - lots of female authors write beautiful books without lighting the pages on fire with fury - but it is for me...

Gabi said...

I know what you mean. Maybe our psyche's need that bar room brawl our conscious selves tell us is a bad, bad idea. It might also keep us from hitting the news with the caption "postal" underneath our mug shots.

Wen Scott said...

Sometimes I like my Antagonist better than my Hero -- perhaps another way to vent those little frustrations we wouldn't dare express in the real world.

Gabi said...

Wen,

Anti-heroes are my weakness. And cowboys. And chocolate. Okay, so it's not an exclusive list. Thanks for stopping in.

Kelli Stanley said...

Beautiful post, Gabi. So should we get you a chocolate-covered anti-hero cowboy for your birthday? ;)

Soph, I agree with you--there's a lot of rage to go around. I personally don't have any problems letting it out when I need to--I'm very comfortable (maybe too comfortable) at expressing anger--but I think what gets me going when I write is *outrage* ... a sense of frustration at how little things change.

Gabi said...

All of us should get chocolate covered bad boy cowboys for our birthdays. And Christmas. And for every great review which means you've got a couple new ones you could share...

Kelli Stanley said...

I hereby give to you, dear Gabi, any chocolate-covered cowboys to which I'm entitled ...

Unless, of course, Russell Crowe or Daniel Craig is lurking underneath. ;)

xoxo