I am in the middle of a writing project which details a main character’s journey through what I call an, “emotionally landmarked place.” The character is a rather deep-thinking college student swimming through the memories he encounters when returning to the university he attended for several years in the past. A part of me worries the similarity to my own college experience will hinder the development of the character and rescind the entertaining conflict made of not resolving his needs or filling the flaws. So I warp him a little here and there and make up a memory, some associations too because it is indeed fiction and I am indeed rather boring besides the make believe I can drum up for myself to wade through (robots, automatons, new setting details, sci-fi elements, that sort).
This character passes by on nearly every street corner, in every sensation, a memory that ties him emotionally to the setting. In a classroom and zoning out? Glance to the ceiling to find a fluorescent light that reminds him of stretching his hands out in the summertime towards the sunlight glancing through his fingers. See a statue? It associates immediately with the blanket of snow caked with footprints in front of the series of marbled women and their dresses stone-still, yet blown by the wind and placed at a pavilion outside university square.
Much of the story goes this way and drives plot elements forward — of finding happiness, of acceptance. But the reality is, I drown the character in memories to the point of him pitying himself to such depths he confuses compassion for negativity and reflection for stress. I believe I haven’t written any grand secondary characters (the savior, the confidant) because I’ve bogged down the story with six thousand words of memory-mush and proceeding past it to make new characters defeats the trends I’ve set. This puts me in a bit of a discomforting spot.
I love this association idea. I love a character remembering the setting as good or bad and how they react to it thereby having the reader actively seeing them in their own interesting situations. But it can’t breathe without character.
I’ve relied on the idea of self-study to figure out ways to make character and implement it into the story. To my understanding, interesting characters in interesting settings makes all the difference to reader’s enjoyment of the writing. But with creative writing especially focused in the fields of science fiction or fantasy, the solution to most problems is to read more and see how other authors do it.
I have started to read again (I had taken a long hiatus). I haven’t read in a while so I picked up a book with some words I don’t understand and probably some of the most vivid detailing of character and setting description I have encountered: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. I believe myself capable of creative and descriptive expression, then I read this book, and now I wonder, “how on Earth does he do all that?” I’ve been writing in the sidelines of the pages and underlining, annotating, and yet still every sentence feels like it shows. In the words of William Strunk Jr.: “Not that the writer make all sentences short or avoid all detail and treat subjects only in outline, but that every word tell.” I’ve always liked this quote. It spins “show don’t tell” a bit and the Elements of Style is a wonderful guide for writing. I could flounder about more, making tell of the great things an individual book has done — but you’ve seen it for yourself if you read and focus on character, it is essential — a building block. The ideology of making memories the only actual characters that my own protagonist interacts with, well, it just doesn’t cut the mustard. I need real people, real interactions!
The last remark I’ll say is a list of books and essays I plan to read to bolster my writing skills. I can’t venture to be a writer without reading. Here they are as a bulleted list. I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I thought this to be an adventurous set of works. Wish me luck!