Friday, February 23, 2018

Characters We Create or Steal and Can They Teach Us Something?

Many thanks to Rhobin  for another probing topic. 

The Meth House by Judith Copek

This week I published the novelette, (shorter than a novella, longer than a long short story) The Meth House for  Amazon's Kindle.  By the way, are you aware that you do not actually need a Kindle to read Kindle publications?  On the  page where the book is sold, there is a link to get the FREE app for reading on other devices.  Once you. have the app, you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required. This has been a free public service  announcement.

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This month our blog roll has returned to the ever-fruitful topic of characters. Do they come from our minds? Have we perhaps met them before? And what do our characters reveal (if anything) about ourselves.  Can they teach us something?

I will use examples from The Meth House. I lived in Colorado from first grade through high school and in the summers while at college.  This story was inspired by a newspaper article about homeless living in the state forests, and how one of then had set the forest on fire (accidentally).  I don't have a fire in my novelette, but but I have an old, abandoned cabin (maybe once a meth house), where my protagonist comes upon a little girl, dirty, scared and abandoned.  My main character is a reformed alcoholic who lived on the street for many years, sobered up with the help of AA, and became a social worker.  She has seen a lot, and experienced a lot.  Bad stuff happens at the cabin and then the locale moves to Boulder,  Estes Park, and finally out to the plains and beet fields of Northeastern Colorado where more bad stuff happens. You read the newspaper, you get ideas, you write the story.

The only characters I "stole" were the Moos brothers, the baddest of the bad.  I knew of these twins (always innately bad) from my days in grade school.  They must have been born with evil genes.  The little girl, Lina, came out of my head, as did Hattie Pullen,  her lawyer friend and Mr. Ed.  The deceitful uncle, Ferguson, the child predator: anyone's guess where he came from. But these people were all somehow inspired by the settings in Colorado,  the state forests, Boulder, Estes Park and the sugar beet growing towns of Northeastern Colorado. My husband and I once drove through the town I named "Beetville." There were places almost as decrepit as the meth house.  As a teenager, my pals and I used to drink at the  unnamed bar.

Meth has been a problem in rural areas for a long time.  Little towns lose population and jobs and  the young people feel trapped.  Drugs are a tempting outlet for despair and even boredom. For years, I collected newspaper clipping about meth, thinking I would write a novel sometime.  But The Meth House is not really about meth.
Unlike me, Hattie has seen a lot of life, as an alcoholic living on the street for years.  She got sober and become a social worker.  Lina?  Lina is every  frightened child who has ever been abandoned in a scary place.  If you were ever scared witless as a kid, you can understand Lina.  If you've eve been down on your luck and come out of your tailspin, you can identify with Hattie.  If you've ever known a starchy upright man who can entertain little kids with his antics, you've met Archer.

So the answer is yes, we have met all these characters in various guises before.   We know them.  Maybe they are even archetypes.  But what do they reveal about us?  Our fears, our worries, our knowledge, our hopes.  And who wouldn't want to grab a handful of cash out of an abandoned suitcase stuffed with money?  Hey, I wouldn't mind.  Hattie didn't either, but she used it for good.

Can our characters teach us something?  Yes, they can teach us bravery, compassion, a longing for justice.  They can teach us empathy for others. They can teach us love.  But the purpose of writing is to entertain, and characters who are ordinary, but courageous and stubborn, like Hattie, can  both teach and entertain.

Check out what other writers have to say about this fascinating topic.   

Skye Taylor
A.J. Maguire
Marci Baun
Marie Laval
Dr. Bob Rich
Rachael Kosinski
Beverley Bateman
Rhobin L Courtright

Fiona McGier

Connie Vines


Skyewriter said...

I agree that our characters can teach us things if we are willing to listen.

Marie Laval said...

Thank you so much for a very interesting post. The world you describe and write about is completely alien to me, yet I know I could empathise with Hattie, Lina and Archer, because of the feelings, values and experiences each of them represent - the courage to pick yourself up and start again; fear, injustice and abuse; and honesty.

Rhobin Lee Courtright said...

I enjoyed reading about Hattie and how you related to her through experience and how characters can teach the author as well as the reader.
I love my Kindle, and have it on all my devices, but I'm glad Amazon is opening access to everyone. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

You touch on archetypes a bit there. I'm thinking that our personal experience with people, and our own little dashes of personality sprinkling into them, is what makes or breaks an archetype character. If we don't dive into them enough, we end up with a stereotype instead of a character.