Being Out of Character

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Susan Gibb mentions a point of dicussion at our last Narratives writing group meeting (the meeting was fabulous by the way) that had to do with character. Read what she writes here. The idea is interesting. There are lots of ways of treating character beyond conflict resolution issues and theories of drama, and I’ve taken a lot from Kundera and Borges in their own extrapolations and examinations.

It’s difficult for me to deal with the issue in the abstract and enjoy considering the notion of character simply by writing them.

Consider the post below, which deals with a little character test. First, subtract the term character and insert “person.”

Okay, how about Hal. Name.
We know he has two arms, but if he doesn’t this matters.
Hal . . .
And so it begins.

The discussion at he meeting had to do with my assertion that a writer may want to get into Hal as an actor who goes beyond the writer’s experiences. That is, if the writer senses that Hal is a murderer, then the writer must write him as he is. This concept is impossible to verify, since Hal is a fiction, and I don’t always want to involve metacognition into fiction as thinking.

Let’s say Hal is in Mexico talking to a woman on a street corner in Aguas Calientes. I’ve been in that town, but I never spoke to a women there on the street corner. Let’s say Hal is lost and knows no Spanish. Let’s say the writer suspects that the story ends with Hal leaving the woman’s apartment with the woman’s brother.

I have experienced none of this. But this is the fun part. Not figuring out why the story ends as it does, not worrying about whether the story is good or will be well received, not even worrying about whether the story actually ends this way. No, the fun part is writing the possibilities, writing Hal’s experience as it unfolds, pushing out farther and farther from the center, outward and outward into strange territory, into the underwater territories of McCarthy’s wonderful Blood Meridian whale. How many story writers have surprised themselves with a “Wow, I didn’t know that” about Hal or about this woman. “So that’s what happened,” the writer might say. “I didn’t know I could think that,” the writer might say.

In this story, I surprised myself with the realization that the tragedy is not about the outcome, but that the man simply cannot do what he once could do, that somehow the critical things are no longer about him. That’s why the lines got written. Maybe.

Hal then. What does he do; what’s in the way; how does he surmount? What boundaries does he cross?


2 responses to “Being Out of Character”

  1. susan says:

    I must say that this post of yours has left enough of a nudge in my mind to start me up again. tx

  2. Jason says:

    I’ve gotto get to more meetings