Not So Kind and Gentle This Next Time

by | Apr 4, 2007 | Approaches to Writing, Creating Characters

The new novel has gotten off to a good start, though I don’t have nearly the time I’d like for it.  There may be people who can take ten spare minutes and turn them into productive writing time, but I’m not one of them.  I need to know that I’ll have at least two or three hours clear, and it’s best if I can be reasonably certain that nothing will come along to interrupt me.  It takes so long to get that train of thought going, and so little to stop it dead in its tracks.  So working late at night is easiest.

Last week was spring break.  I promised myself I’d get some steam up and figure out how to get the thing started, which is not the easiest thing in the world.  With Desert, a story intricately bound up with the nature of time, I guess this should not have been much of a surprise, but still you would not believe how many parts of the story auditioned for the opening.  This next story is much more straightforward.  Still, I flapped around for most of break finding ways to avoid that terrifying blank computer screen: doing research, pretending to do research, mentally testing out the possibilities, playing with the cat.  Then sometime late Friday I got to work, and by four the next morning the first chapter was basically done.

It’s not a long chapter, just a little introductory thing, a few pages.  You meet the protagonist and a secondary character, and another one appears for his walk-on.  Some themes get introduced, and there’s the faintest whiff of foreshadowing.  Tell you the truth, I’m pretty happy with how much I was able to pack into fewer than two thousand words.  Pleased and relieved.  I’m almost ready to conclude that the long and painful gestation of Desert has actually taught me something about the art of fiction.

You didn’t hear it from me, but I strongly suspect that this next one is going to be a much easier kettle of fish.

The reader whose letter I quoted the other day will not like this next book nearly as well.  The people in it, most of them, are not all that nice, and they do not live in the sort of integrated community that I took such pains to establish last time.  Fact is, the protagonist is fairly awful.  None of the important characters even live in the city, which itself is not an especially kind and gentle one, where the action takes place.  They are there for various reasons, just passing through.

In some ways it’s easier to write about characters I don’t like, though at the same time I’m on my guard against taking the easy way out, making fun of them without taking into account that even unpleasant people are the way they are for a reason.

The danger of taking the easy way out was brought home to me just last week.  The local college’s German department is running its spring film series just now, and showed Merry Christmas, which is about the very unofficial and temporary cessation of hostilities that took place here and there between the trenches in 1914.  Except for a ridiculous subplot about a pair of German opera singers, it was mostly accurate, historically speaking.  Unfortunately, the subplot gave the filmmakers an excuse to inject the German crown prince into the story, and he was portrayed not as a character at all but merely as a caricature.

So even though it was more than a bit painful to watch, it was a timely reminder.  I won’t be presenting any caricatures.  Poking a little fun, yes.  Not kind and gentle fun, either.