Thursday, August 20, 2015

Writing Characters I Don't Like

I don't always like my characters.

Is that weird? I don't know how it is for other authors, but I tend to go where the story is, and sometimes this leads me to share headspace with some people who are just irritating or downright offensive. I'd like to think this helps me cultivate empathy, but it's also really, really annoying. It can also be difficult to try to wrap my mind around a viewpoint that's far, far removed from mine. If that's part of the story, though, that's my job, so I do my best and let the chips fall where they may.

The Other Man is a title near and dear to my heart, though I can't say I'm overly fond of Andrew, the main character. He's blue collar working man and I've grown up in a family of those, so you'd think that'd give him some leeway with me. Nope. His desire to conform, his hunger for the typical, apple-pie American dream, his constant excuses for why he's the victim in his situation, his condescension of others - even his own family, and his paranoid worry about people who aren't like was hard to write, to say the least, especially knowing what was coming with the ending and how it could potentially be viewed.

 The idea of a man unnerved by his wife liking a particular rock star actually came from personal experience - I've known a few people who have actually had to end relationships because their significant others didn't agree with their taste in something or other. One in particular actually broke up with their significant other because of a singer they'd never met, never interacted with, but happened to like a lot. It wasn't to the point of being unhealthy of obsessive, but their partner made a constant deal about feeling like they were living with the singer and didn't measure up. I showed my friend the manuscript before I ever considered publishing it, and thankfully they have a sense of humor and loved it, even if the overall situation was far different than theirs. Still, what the ever-lovin' heck have we come to if we have to bully a person over their musical tastes? It's still a surreal thought to me.

 I've had the experience where I felt like I was being changed or encouraged to change so the other person would be more comfortable, to the point where I just didn't feel like myself anymore. It's a horrible feeling, one I never want to revisit. I really wanted to play with this overall idea, but I also didn't want to make it a gag or a gimmick or some punchline at the end. There is a twist, but hopefully the reveal is  a release of tension and a moment of epiphany and not a gimmick. I'd hate for it to be viewed that way, because at the end of the day, I think we all hide parts of ourselves. Andrew just does it in a very vehement, spiteful way.

Maybe he irritates me because I can understand being disillusioned. You know how it is, we're filled with all these notions as kids to the point we think we can conquer the world as teens, and then we have the rug pulled out from under us. Maybe my discomfort is that I have to acknowledge that I get Andrew's general frustration, even if I don't agree with his motives. I think that helps, though, it keeps him entitled but not a complete monster, or at least hopefully helps the reader look at him with disappointment rather than all-out hatred. He's a good talking point for a character: at what point do we have to get over our life frustrations and try to do the best we can, to what point do we have a right to be disenchanted with how our lives have gone?

His family doesn't make it easy on him, mind you. Granted, they're not terrible, but young kids are weird, and I may have based some of their behavior off mine as a kidlet to make things extra weird. You're welcome. His wife is Ivy League but opted to be a stay-at-home mom, a decision he never quite stopped resenting, because his own background is somewhat less in his eyes. It's an interesting dichotomy, he sees her as above him, worries about what secrets she may harbor, but also knows how to press her buttons, even though everything seems to press his. He's interesting, Andrew. He's irritating and I disagree with his fatalistic attitude, his black-and-white clear cut view of the world, his judgment of people. I disagree with him and he angers me at times....but oddly, I'm glad I wrote him, because he's also, hopefully, a character that will leave people thinking and talking.  If he got me thinking about how I could be a better person and how I can better channel my frustrations, hopefully he can do the same for others. Plus, his kids are hilarious and amazing, so there's got to be some potential in him somewhere.

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