Wednesday, July 19, 2006

"You're just jealous, because the voices in my head are only talking to me" (WW? #24)

I’ve neglected my blog quite a bit this past week, a fact owed to a lot of overtime at work which has left me more sleep-deprived than I think I’ve ever felt. My vacation is coming up this weekend, so I’ve got a lot of blogging to do this week, if I’m going to finish all I planned for this month. You can probably expect two or more entries a day for the rest of the week because of that.

Speaking of neglect, I’ve gone too long without doing one of Jess’ Writer’s Weekly Questions. So now that I’m back in business, let me answer her latest one.

Writer's Weekly Question #24:

What is your experience with characters? Do they come to you "full grown out of oblivion" or do they come in pieces and only share a bit of what you need to know them? Do you hear their voices, or do you develop them? What makes them real for you?

Characters really do take on a life of their own. Many of the ones that run around the inside of my head have enjoyed that space for more than a decade. Some are probably going on two, but just how many of them are really alive to me? More than I care to admit!

A young knight named Mikhael Bek hasn’t been in my head the longest, but I can’t think of a better example of a character that has taken on a life of his own. Just this past week, I actually felt guilty about the things I have happen in his life. In The Last VanDaryn, my wife and I write some terrible things into his life. What’s ironic is that he’s there at all, because the idea of creating a traditional fantasy was pretty low on my list of goals when I first started writing.

Mikhael was originally born as a character named Michael Collins. Michael existed within a different reality, an alternate Earth. He went from a superhero to a CIA analyst. Then I got involved in online roleplay within AOL’s chat rooms. I needed a character to play, and as a shortcut, I basically borrowed Michael’s persona to create a vampire-hunting knight. Mikhael turned into my favorite character to play. There’s a lot of me in him, but elements of the original Michael remained.

I started “writing” with Mikhael in posts on message boards, something like serialized adventures. Then things got more complicated. I recruited other players to do an epic serialized adventure, something I hadn’t seen others do up to that point. Eventually, I worried that playing Mikhael was taking too much away from my real writing, and it was. I stopped doing the roleplay for a while, but I couldn’t bring myself to stop playing with him. His time online ended with a failed romance, after which he decided to return to his home country and rededicate himself to his duties. I wanted to know what happened to him, what the next chapter in his life would be. I started writing with him, but this time as a character within a book, and this was probably where he started to become real.

The years since then have seen a lot of changes in Mikhael. In a weird way, I don’t think he’s so much changed as I’ve just gotten to know the real character that’s always been there. I enjoy the little things the most. He loves to drink hot tea, and he almost never drinks alcohol. He likes to end his “day” by watching the sunrise while sitting in his favorite wooden chair. I saw him as being rather straight-laced and religious. The more I wrote with him, though, the more I realized he had some personal demons I’d never expected. He made a living hunting violent killers, and I finally realized a man can only manage to do that well if thinks like them. That led to Mikhael’s more violent nature and the frightening realization that, on some level, he takes pleasure in this, a fact that frightens even himself when he dares to dwell on it.

I don’t tend to think on his voice too much, his or any other character’s. The voices usually come pretty distinctly to me from the start. Mikhael’s has gone through some changes, though. Years ago, I wrote one of his adventures in first person, and to my surprise, he displayed more wit and sarcasm than I’d have expected. Until then, I’d always just assumed his manner of speaking would be too stiff and dull to work as first person. Even though I’m not using the first person style with Mikhael these days, the experience made me realize I’d underestimated him. How I imagined his inner voice was a lot more interesting, so I’ve forced it forward a bit over the years.

He’s not the only character that’s alive to me. I’ve more than I can count. What’s frustrating is to find such a character and then have nothing to do with him or her. These characters haunt me as images of their lives drift through my imagination, and I wonder what I can and will do with them.

Some characters spring to life so easily, and yet others just never seem to work at all. I can gift them with all the quirks I want, but they’re never right. I hope none of those ever find their way into print.

1 comment:

DesLily said...

This was really good.. maybe you should take more vacations! lol.. have you ever found a character that evolved "on it's own" to change so much you weren't sure you liked them anymore??

I may have to post on the characters being real to you (me)in the next day or so...