Tag Archives: character development

Radio Silence: A Character Dissection

I’ve used the word “dissection” so many times in my other manuscript, I can no longer spell it without thinking about it.

One of the main issues I had with my first draft of The Killing Type was letting my MC’s voice fade out. Charlotte took a backseat to a much louder character, and now that I’m in the process of rewriting the book, I realized I’m having trouble hearing her. At first I thought it was just me failing to reconnect to the story.

Here’s where I let the crazy eek out. Are you ready?

When I met Henry, from the other book, I met him. He sat down at my table with his fox skeleton and began speaking to me about the moral implications of medicine. He was, simply put, a pretentious git. The Mortality Vice is his story, and it’s written in first person. I had unlimited access to his mind, past, present, and future. I could see all the doors, and all the possible realities for him. We still chat, even though I’ve finished the draft. We’re making plans for revising. Anna, too, is very much an open book to me, though she’s a secondary character in the story.

I thought my problem was switching back into third person after so long. I’d tried writing The Killing Type from Charlotte’s point-of-view, but each time I felt it was too muddled and messy. I brought myself back, but there was too much distance. Now I’m writing a very close third person, with more of Charlotte’s feelings and inner thoughts broadcast to the reader.

Unlike Henry and Anna, Charlotte is very much an internal person, in her book and in my head. She doesn’t chat with me. She doesn’t tell me what’s happening. Instead, she drops hints and let’s me follow to my own conclusions. She has an isolation that none of my other characters have expressed.

I’m not her confidant: Lizzie is.

Charlotte, like me, is an introvert. She keeps her cards close. The problem with her voice in the first draft stemmed from the fact that I wasn’t honoring her feelings by continuously trying to reach her. She didn’t want to be reached. Lizzie wouldn’t say a word in deference to her friend. When I read over what I’d written in that first draft, I see just how much I got wrong.

There are things Charlotte wants to stay hidden. Things she can’t face, things she doesn’t even tell Lizzie. She’s guarded, and she has every right to be.

I don’t feel like I’m fighting her voice anymore. I don’t feel like I’m dragging out her secrets.  Yes, I’m crazy, and I treat my characters as though they were real people. I finally feel like I understand her, and in turn, she’s been more forthcoming. She’s more present, more involved. We’re not resisting each other, and I have confidence that this time, I’ll get it right.

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Unreliable Narrators, or A Character Study on Charlotte Grimly

Charlotte and I have been spending far more time together lately. Part of my struggle with getting back into The Killing Type was the distance I’d formed between Charlotte’s narrative and the world I created in my second manuscript. We needed to reconnect, but I didn’t know how to reach her again. It’s not like I can call her up and ask her out for tea. Rewriting means needing to go back and rediscover who Charlotte is, and why.

Charlotte first appeared in my college fiction writing class in the short story, The Waiting Room. Though “Waiting Room” Charlotte and Killing Type Charlotte are two different characters, I loved the idea of an unreliable narrator. After all, my childhood mentor, Edgar Allan Poe, used them frequently.

She reappeared in my college thesis on the portrayal of madness in literature. My advisor made an offhand comment about writing a series of “Crazy Charlotte” stories, and the idea stuck. The decision that Charlotte should be schizophrenic seemed organic to her character. In my thesis, Charlotte is effected by what she reads, her hallucinations stemming from literature. In The Killing Type, Charlotte’s hallucinations are repressed memories.

I devoured everything I could find on abnormal psychology. I wanted to get it right.

I’m almost always nervous that I will get it wrong. I’ve a limited experience in dealing with mental illness personally, and I don’t want to criminalize or mock those who deal with it on a daily basis. Charlotte is more than a mentally ill narrator, more than merely unreliable. She’s a person (albeit fictional.) She has hopes, dreams, goals, and yes, secrets.

I was talking Cat about character development and diversity, about my concerns about my characters.

Charlotte is a blonde, green-eyed white girl from the midwest. Cat asked me why.

On the surface, it’s because that’s how Charlotte showed up in my head. It wasn’t a conscious decision. Then I realized Charlotte is this way because in order for the story to work, she would need access better medical care, the ability to see a therapist regularly, to afford the proper medications, to be in a nice, clean facility when the levee breaks.

If Charlotte were Mexican, or Indian, or any other race, it would be a different story. Though schizophrenia occurs equally in all races, the proper attention and care is not always available. The social stigma changes. That’s why The Killing Type didn’t work in its orignal setting (1920.) I didn’t have the materials I needed. Charlotte didn’t have what she needed. She needed to be informed, to be able to take care of herself.

She’s more than an insanity plea.

She’s a veracious reader. She’s interested in her own chemistry. She’s not afraid of how she is, but she still feels like an outsider. She’s still “other.” She loves her job. She grows flowers. She’s schizophrenic, but I’ll be damned if she’s not more than a diagnosis.

I still worry over how Charlotte will be seen, especially considering the things I dredge up from her past and the threat of a serial killer leaving bodies around town. I’m not a doctor, nor am I claiming to be. I took Psych 101 and read everything I could on mental illness, but that doesn’t equate to experience. I can only hope I’ve done Charlotte justice.

If you haven’t read it, and would like to, “The Waiting Room” is linked above. You can also find it under the “Short Stories” tab on the menu bar.

If you enjoyed this post and would like to see more of these character-centric ramblings, leave a comment below!

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How To Make the Best of Being Mute: A Guide to Miming and Hilarity

The sign I held up Monday and Tuesday. Fact: Half of this county has never seen The Little Mermaid.

Last blog I mentioned being ridiculously ill. Well, the illness has passed but left the racking cough which subsequently took out my vocal chords. As of today, my voice has returned, but is sad and squeaky and largely out of use because I’m not willing to (further) damage my vocal chords.

The problem is, you don’t realized how reliant you are on speaking until you can’t. I had a small notebook Monday and Tuesday in which I’d written key phrases: “How are you?” “Find everything you were looking for?” etc. When my bagger couldn’t speak for me, I’d hold up the sign. Without fail, every customer would pause, and I could see them trying to puzzle out if I were faking it or not. Most people thought I was. They offered cruel jokes about how happy my employers/co-workers/mother must be because I was silent.

Some assumed I was deaf/mute, in which case they offered the same cruel jokes. I was sorely tempted to write that my vocal chords were severed in a horrific car accident, and didn’t they feel ashamed now?

Others, assuming I was deaf/mute, signed at me. I don’t read sign language, but it was a nice gesture. The ones who didn’t sign inexplicably spoke LOUDER at me.

I attempted to make light of the situation, nodding to questions of if I had laryngitis, and holding up my sign, “SOLD VOICE TO SEA WITCH FOR LEGS; BAD DEAL”

Those who got the joke thought it was hysterical. Those who didn’t get the joke were some of the most confused people I’ve ever seen. As humorous as I found being without a voice for four days, it’s exceptionally difficult to pantomime a conversation with someone, especially when they refuse to look at you. Some of the customers assumed I was doing something for church or raising money by not speaking. I held up the “Did you find everything you needed?” sign to one guy, who glanced at it and proceeded to tell me how it was his mother’s money, and he was sorry, but it wasn’t up to him. I looked at the sign and put on my best “What the fuck?” face. I had people answering “No thank you” to “Hello, how are you?” It’s very frustrating.

Yesterday met the added FailField of my encountering a group of deaf people who wanted to know where cookie dough was. The awkward was intense.

And yes, this somehow ties into the novel-thing. It gave me a taste of what I expect Elizabeth is worried over. She’s not losing her voice though; she’s losing her sight. Not being able to speak was hard, but I had a notebook and people helping me convey things. Being blind is a different story and likely harder to cope with. I’ve been exploring more sensory things since my illness: walking around with my eyes closed, trying to find my way around my house, in the fridge, the pantry, trying to dress.

As a writer, I’ve always been told to write what I know, and fake what I didn’t by massive amounts of research. I already have terrible vision, but I can see. Lizzie isn’t so lucky, and now I understand her character just a little bit more.

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