Thursday, November 1, 2007


I was having a discussion today with someone I know who is convinced he has written the next great American horror novel. I told him about my book, the theme, the characters, etc, and he told me the following:

You have to make each one of your characters a little different than people would expect.

For instance, my drug-seeker character who goes to the ER to obtain prescription drugs under false pretenses because he's addicted to them shouldn't just be a run-of-the-mill low-life junkie, he should be someone who is a non-stereotypical prescription drug addict. Why is he addicted to drugs? Just because he likes getting high? Yes, but...

We discussed and decided he should be a businessman who lost a fortune during the tech stock crash around 2001, became despondent, found Jesus, and started volunteering at a church. He was helping to do repairs in the chapel, and as he was reaching up to do something with a cross that was hanging (eg. take it down so he could paint around it), he fell off the ladder and broke his back, starting his need for prescription pain pills, which eventually morphed into an addiction.

My book is entitled Seekers and the unspoken theme is that everyone is seeking something, everything from approval of a parent, friends, drugs, money, or companionship . The only character outright referred to as a "seeker" is this "fallen businessman" (who falls figuratively and literally)/drug seeker. Of course, the character who is seeking companionship, instead of joining a social group or whatever, deals with it by drinking and so on.

The great American horror novelist told me the image of him "reaching up for the cross" (ie seeking God) and falling was very powerful. He failed himself, and when he needed it most, God failed him, and, eventually, he started seeking drugs. Of course, I'm not going to explain it like that...

In short, that's a lot more interesting than "a junkie showed up at the ER looking for drugs...."


momsie564 said...

Wow. That is some very very wise advice indeed.

With that in mind, I've just re-written a minor character in my story. He's a sous-chef of Irish heritage who works in the kitchens of a big hotel, and his specialty used to be "meat and potatoes", but now, thanks to you, it's... Asian cuisine.

I'll definitely keep it in mind for tomorrow's noveling. Thank you (and your friend) for that. :)

Dreaming again said...

Isn't it amazing what we learn about our characters as we write about them? Or discuss them.

I was talking with my husband about the antagonist today. The father character. (my book is a young adult category) He is a doctor (sorry Dr. Dino) and is as arrogant as the day is long. He taught God how to be God (at least as far as he is concerned).
As I was explaining this character to my husband, I was explaining that his problem with his daughter was that he is annoyed with her 'dreaminess'.

It struck me that he is jealous not annoyed. That he is a perfectionist, a people pleaser ..and he did exactly what his parents chose for him to do. Medicine (what his father did). What he WANTED ...was music (which is what he CHOSE for his children, and his youngest refused to follow). He is annoyed, disappointed, discouraged ...all the negative things you can imagine because she has gone the way of sports "unlady like" etc ... and not picked "his path" for her ...

but in reality I was telling my husband ... it dawned on me. This father is JEALOUS that his daughter had the courage to follow her dreams, when he did not.

I sat there stunned.

He is afraid to admit that he admires his own daughter because then he'd have to admit that he'd not been courageous enough to follow his own heart when he was a young adult.

Here I am ...writing here again instead of in my story ...


momsie564 said...

But that's amazing! What a great insight - and you know what? I'm sure that knowing that, your writing of this character will now be more nuanced, because you understand his motivation and don't feel like he's as "cardboard-ish" or stereotypical as he was before.

See, this is the difference between us and the kids - we can actually look behind the behaviours we're describing (okay, okay, inventing *grin*) and get to the reasons WHY they act this way. I've seen some really awesome writing from teens and young adults, but somehow the *why* question is still best answered by those of us in our late 30s, 40s and beyond.

Congrats!! :)

Monotreme said...

Nurse K:

That is wonderful. I'm looking forward to reading it when it's done.

I had a similar experience last year. As I wrote my character (Claire Cahill, scientist), she gained some dimension and meaning. Then this person who never screwed up in her entire life and doesn't tolerate screwups in other people makes the ultimate screwup and pays for it with her life.

With that, my narrative was up and running. By doing something unexpected, she gave the story life.

It did scare me for a few days while I figured out what to do next.