Most often, we write from what we know. We write from a place of experience and sensation, because that’s part of who we are, and so it must show up on the page in some way. But I recognize the danger in putting so much of myself into my characters…it could just become some glorified masturbation. Yet, a bit of literary self-cloning is inevitable and unavoidable. I did it today–put myself into some characters…and then I realized it’s a very effective means of getting the story written.
Partially, my initial process involves research, as I tend to be a more technical writer in the beginning stages until things take off and then the creative part floods in and fills it all out. By research, I don’t mean tedious outlines or character sketches and full biographies of everyone in the story. I mean what I call Novel Logistics. I mean I write whatever strikes my fancy, and then I come across an unknown, and look it up, find out more about it. In that information will often be a seed for something else- For moving the story, creating an authentic setting, solving a plot problem or deepening the character.
For instance, today I was working on a scene with a character where I needed her to stall a conversation, and I looked down at my boots and thought about it, and then I thought maybe she would also look at her boots, think about them instead of the conversation, and then that led me to giving her my boots. So I had to Google them to find the name or style so I could describe them accurately, and I found a picture of another pair of boots, similar, but not quite the same. The boot style was called Fierce. I thought this character would be thinking about buying those boots partly because of the name–because she wanted to be fierce. And these were the first nice boots she had ever been able to buy for herself. And that tied nicely into the subject of the conversation she was trying to avoid. And thus, what were once my boots, became her boots, but then they weren’t the same boots at all. Just a springboard into something more.
In a different scene with another character, I used a certain idea about mediocrity, and it began to represent itself in the color grey. Then i found all these connections that fit into the story, developed both characters, and moved the plot a few steps forward. (Rough draft, but here’s that passage):
Dr. Garrison Bonnet lived a mundane life. In toto, there was no way to make investigations more interesting when you were tailing a guy who liked to read and drink tea and feed ducks. The most interesting thing about him was the odd theme emerging. Grey. Dr. Bonnet had a pattern of grey in his life, and it was, as metaphors go, a fitting color. She wondered if he noticed the pattern of it in his life.
She had followed him from his office to the park where he perused a copy of Fifty Shades of Grey, a book she tried to read because of the hype, but found the writing on the amateur side, even though the concept was intriguing. Ultimately she was too aggravated by the book’s obvious need for an editor, and dismissed it as a waste of time. She failed to understand the allure of it for so many women. Perhaps because it was aimed at straight women, and she was most notably not in that category.
He was also wearing a grey jacket. Perhaps his damn underwear was grey too. So what she discovered about him, aside from his abject mediocrity, was that his stature seemed a fictional construct, perhaps perpetuated by the prestige of being a high-dollar psychiatrist who often worked for the police department, who lived in an upscale house on an upscale street in an upscale neighborhood, and drove a decidedly upscale vehicle—a Mercedes Benz C250—in an upscale shade of—ferfucksake—grey. It had to be intentional. Grey had to simply be his favorite color and maybe he levitated toward all things of that shade. Or maybe he had his own quirks and obsessions. Physician, heal thyself.
I often do that. I use my own thoughts and settings and products and preferences and habits and then as the characters evolve, those things do also, and they get refined and become part of that character in a different way, and eventually it’s not myself in the character, but the character’s self. It’s very much like taking a lump of clay and plopping it on the pottery wheel. I am the clay I put there and then when the wheel spins and I start drawing my hands u p the sides, it becomes something completely new. Even though that clay came from me–WAS me. This method allows me to springboard from a familiar place into a new place of creation–of fiction. And yet on some level it is not fiction at all, just a version of something that was true. And I believe the most effective fiction is a reflection of truth.