Friday, October 24, 2008

Milquetoast or salsa?

I like to cook. I like to cook because I like to eat and I like sharp knives and I like making things. La, salsa. One of my favorite recipes is this. I call it the Crucible of Pain.

Dice some habaneros.
Dice some garlic.
Squeeze some lime juice.
Combine with a little salt.
Eat on chips. Commence weeping and wailing and rending of garments.

I like exciting food and I like exciting characters. That doesn't mean they can't be bored, they just can't be boring.

I've read about how important it is to have active characters that make things happen, rather than passive characters that things happen to. Reading about a bunch of passive fops complaining weakly about how boring everything is is like tasting a mouthful of bread soaked in milk. Bleh.

But characters who make things happen! who give a damn about something! who stand for their beliefs! who argue or disagree or shout! These are the characters I want to read (and write) about.

It's not quite that easy, of course. Too much making-things-happen and arguing turns into a frothy melodrama. But for me, at least, I too easily fall into the "let's sit around and think about things but not actually do anything" trap.

So avoiding melodrama is one key. Another is that passive characters can still have a role, but maybe they shouldn't be main characters. Most characters stand out in sharper relief when contrasted to someone else, and if that someone else is passive when the main character is active -- or, occasionally, vice-versa -- so much the better.

Characters are interesting when they stand out: if they're sad when everyone is celebrating; if they're floppy when everyone else is galvanized; if they're in an unfamiliar situation. Could this be because we, the readers, are boring? And so we seek out characters unlike us as antidotes?

Yet at the same time we connect to characters like us because that familiarity helps create the bond. Just don't let them be too much like us. I already live my own life, I don't need to read it in a book, too.


Stina Lindenblatt said...

Really, Seth. You should be writing for Writer's Digest not the CFA. Have you thought of writing articles for the SCBWI? Maybe you should. In the meantime, please write more of your writer's insights. I find them highly entertaining.

S R Wood said...

Stina -- Ha ha, you are too kind! Meanwhile I'm faced with the irony of dispensing advice which I then struggle to follow with my own writing. Physician, heal thyself..