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What are your favorite kind of characters to create? To read?
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Characters are my favorite part of writing. I know that seems a given for a writer. Writers, however, aren’t cookie-cutter people. We don’t all adore characters and developing them. Some writers worry more about settings and plot. You might argue, as some lit theory does, that those things are characters unto themselves, as well, and therefore, it’s all about character. You could personify plot and setting, but I prefer to explore people and their minds.
When I say people, I don’t just mean humans. Being a human who has always shared her home with pets and plants, and explored innerspace to the borders of becoming a monk, I think often about the personhood of non-human beings. Don’t even get me started on the premise of plants no less deserving of respect. I could possibly channel a lot of Poison Ivy and make you wonder if you just entered the Gotham Zone.
Living in the same home with animals, at least, does give people a unique perspective on their psyche, as well as painting a much richer knowledge of that which they’re capable. For most of history, persisting into today, humans believed that non-human animals incapable of emotion and incapable of reasoning. The most recent argument is that we anthropomorphize our personal emotion upon animals instead of them exhibiting their own will. Biology studies have come a long way to at last disprove that, despite the holdouts. If you have lived with dogs for as long as I have, you’d know that was a bunch of bunk before science got the majority of us on board. Dr. Irene Pepperberg is one of my favorite researchers in the field of animal psychology. I highly recommend her book Alex and Me (read with tissues). Dr. Pepperberg is a hero, a real innovator of the field.
Dr. Pepperberg and I are on the same page about these things. And, because of her perseverance, she paved the way for other cognitive research to grow. If a bird brain is capable, where did it stop? Plants? There is a branch of science exploring just that and making some surprising discoveries. These are things I have thought about my whole life. Do animals and plants have souls and minds? How we move in the world, if they do, suddenly matter quite a bit more. If we think about how we are miserable to one another, we’re so much worse toward our fellow earthlings. That’s a lot to digest. Some feel overwhelmed by these theories, reacting with negative emotions when such theories are posited. The frustration is often exhibited in ridicule that points out the need for awareness on how one treads, literally on everything, just through living. I’m sure ants are none-to-happy about humanity in general. Can humans be moved to give a good-damn? I am not sure that is either possible or entirely necessary. Perhaps just being aware that other life has the right to exist, and to be as careful as is reasonably possible, is the best answer we can ever achieve in this world.
These ideas, of course, exist within paradigms of philosophy, as practical application is as yet unachievable by any but Zen Monks and perhaps hermits who are willing to have the minimum (materially and nutritionally). But these things are where I love to work with characters. I write both historical fiction and dark fantasy. My historical work explores questions of the past between humans (sometimes animals, such as Manny the horse in Blue). When you join me in the dark fantasy worlds I have created, you see the science and philosophy I am interested in come to life. It’s here you will encounter alien life (both ultra and extra terrestrials), and animals that are the peers of humans and aliens. In Trailokya, wolves are soldiers serving in the legions of Zion. They’re not alone either. Cryptozoological beings as well as Terrestrials populate the landscape, exhibiting traits normally reserved for humans. They have language to accompany the mind, and language that is understandable by other races. You’ll find them in a natural state, but with the addition of those things we just discovered true about them although we suspected all along.
Exploring truths, pushing the limits beyond the accepted, and on to what is surmised (sometimes beyond) is exactly what I love to do when creating characters. Fantasy is best when it improves upon reality–when it reaches out to ask those questions that come next. The same is true of characters. I love to both read and write characters that go beyond the everyday questions to ask something higher, to get into the philosophy and expand what humanity understands or even contemplates. I take those questions that we take for granted and have stopped exploring (and growing from).
Imagine if we lived with and treated the other lifeforms of this planet as if they were the family that they are? For instance, what if the biblical dominion granted to man is about caring for the family of life that shares this planet with us, and making sure they are well-cared for and not left behind, nor abused in the process of our own growth?
Weaving these ideas into the non-conventional characters I tend to create help me explore these ideas more fully, but they also pose the questions to readers, hopefully raising them above the mundane. And, that is the point of reading, right? To get beyond the mundane and explore ideas…
I find it far more difficult to write characters that fit the basic molds, although they are useful for displaying why basic isn’t good enough for anyone. As far as providing contrast, they serve little other purpose, and should only be used sparingly. Yet, many would argue that these familiar folks are what help readers find commonality with your work. They’re the normals we hope we are, and attempt to be to fit into society, so to speak. Is that worth writing about? Unless it’s a critique of conformity, writing this type of character is boring and an overused trope.
I prefer to expose banality in displaying the possibilities that are a finger’s stretch from where we’ve gotten to at this moment, and then crank it up a few notches. Unabashedly facing evil and letting it be evil without coddling readers (making it misunderstood evil or only partially shady) is another insistence I have (like in the case of Claire’s father). Certitude in defining what something or someone is takes more guts these days than prancing around it in a non-committal dance, fearing to face truth and give it a name.
People fear a lot. That fact is revealed in the way people avoid or attack when something triggers them. (And, no this statement doesn’t include those groups facing hate as though they’re afraid of haters, because they’re eyes-wide-open addressing dangerous behaviors). It is exposed in the choices made in reading material; what is found acceptable or deniable. My wolves, for instance, may erect a bridge too far. Perhaps, the respect of animals as sentient beings deserving our regard is too far. But, I don’t write for the fearful. I write for the curious, like myself. Writing curious characters is engaging and invigorating beyond the pages of the books in which they exist.
Let’s hop on over to see what the other authors have to say about the characters they love to write and read…
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Stevie Turner says
Have you read ‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers? It gives an insight into just what trees and plants are capable of. I’m just amazed that plants can move towards the sun by elongating one side of their stems. I know some animals are intelligent, but I don’t think we give plants enough credit!
Captain Maiel says
I haven’t. I’ll have to check him out. thanks for the rec. I’m amazed by them too. They’re fascinating! I loved the botany portion of bio studies. I did really well in those classes.
Richard Dee says
If you’ve ever felt emotion in a particular place, then how is that any different to feeling emotion in the presence of another human, or indeed any other living thing? My dogs, all sadly departed, had their own emotions, all different and not gained from living with me, they were ones that they bought to the party. Which is why, for me, the location of my stories is another character, just one that you don’t need to write dialogue for.
Captain Maiel says
Exactly! I think it’s very narcissistic to think we’re the only intelligence around. I just can’t buy it when I look at animals. They’re too smart and have survived this planet, in many cases longer than we have! Gotta love the dogos.
P.J. MacLayne says
“People fear a lot.” And that’s what’s gotten us into the situation we are in. If we could let go of some of the fear, we might find more joy.
Captain Maiel says
Amen, PJ. I’m so confused why we’ve allowed fear to rule us and kill our joys.