Saturday, March 29, 2008

She Says Picture Your Character at Age 65

You know my fantasy author has a Web site for writers (and readers) at where she doesn't really expound on her life issues. That's what this site is for: a writer's life. (And marketing the fantasy novel Choices Meant for Gods...)

But today she asked me to do something that writers would get value from. I imagine readers enjoying this exercise as well. Picture a character that you've read about (or, for you writers visiting today, picture a character you're working with; or, for you folks who know Sandy's soon-to-be-ex-husband, who is continuing to be a jerk, picture him). Picture this character at age 65. By imagining this character's later years, you can work on the arc that takes him or her to that point. It's a valuable writing exercise, and I think it's helped calm Sandy just a bit. (You'll understand why as you read on.)

Where is the character? Is he in the modern world, or, like Sandy's soon-to-be-ex, is he in a place where the sky is not the same color as the real world? Is he in a run-down motel room with mildew on the bottom of moth-bitten curtains?

What is the character doing? Is he holding a remarkable woman (or man) who looks up to him, respects him and has carried affection for him since the time he rescued her (or him) from a fire-breathing dragon back in Book III, or, like Sandy's soon-to-be-ex, is he still wondering if anything significant besides his impending kidney failure will happen in his life? Is he staring at an out-of-focus television screen with a half-empty bottle of booze slipping heavily from his limp, pudgy grasp onto his ample belly?

What does the character look like? Is he thickly tone and grayed at the temples with thin but real hair, or, like Sandy's soon-to-be-ex, is he thickly poured onto the chair and oozing out the sides like Jabba the Hut with three-day stubble and squinting eyes because he's lost his glasses in his latest drinking jag? Is he unable to lift the remote to change the television channel from atrophy in his left arm?

What brought the character to this place? Is the hero resting beside a brook with his trusty steed because they've returned from one last quest before he retires with his bonny lass and family on the farm he's desired to rebuild stone by stone and pasture by pasture, or, like Sandy's soon-to-be-ex, has he run here to hide from creditors trying to collect on the thousands of dollars owed to Federal Financial Aid and student loan authorities for the 474 credit hours earned toward the four degrees that he's had since 1994--40 years before.

How will this character die? Will she be well-known, well-respected and well-liked in her industries; full of spunk and humor and the ability to make people laugh despite trials and tribulation that once looked like setbacks? Will she be comfortably situated and in love with a handsome person who respects her and stands by her? Will she be slaying bad dragons, immortalizing good ones, blogging about grammar and tips for marketing, writing reviews for her friends' new novels and making some insane donation to the Archie Carr Foundation? Will hordes of friends fly from parts unknown to visit her in her final days, at a final party where they quote Thoreau and sing Duran Duran songs and watch old X-Files, Star Trek and Stargate re-runs on a huge plasma-screen TV (like in the old days) while breaking off into groups to reminisce about book tours and family reunions before someone notices that she has slipped into her writing den to type one last ending to one last fantasy book before the keyboard goes silent. Or, like Sandy's soon-to-be-ex, will the character's life be wasted trying to run from responsibility and authority until its long arm eventually finds him and its long fingers snuff out his life while he's alone, quiet, unheard of, with perhaps a solitary friend or two to identify the body and mourn while considering what to do with his computer and shoes...

Helen Keller once said, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it." My fantasy author has been asked to deal with yet another chunk of stupidity (this one to the tune of $4,000) because of her soon-to-be-ex's inability to accept responsibility for his own decisions. Of course she's not going to clean up yet another mess for him. He's no longer her son to raise. But she's thought about the situation, and it speaks to her about the condition of so many characters... This is the kind of character she'd never root for in a story.

And neither would I.


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