Thursday, May 26, 2011

Cedric Speaks Week Four- A Post on Creating Characters

Cedric Speaks:

The car crept along the streets. Even by London standards, Kolcutta was over-crowded. At one point, beggars swarmed around us with outstretched hands, some sporting lesions like I once had. Many of them were little kids. The driver laid on the horn in an attempt to drive them off. I’d read up on our destination on the plane. Kolcutta was Kali’s own city, and called the “City of Joy”. I decided that those who named it that must have had a strong sense of irony, because I didn’t see much for the residents to be happy about.

Welcome to week four of this feature, which will extend into next month with more contests! Please comment here to be entered to win a Cara Mia, I Love Vampires t-shirt. The drawing will take place on May 31st.  You may enter as many times as you wish by commenting on previous posts.

I thought I might share some thoughts on creating characters and writing this book from a different POV than the first two. The first books have a female protagonist, which isn't as much of a stretch. I’m a heterosexual, American, all-too-human female, yet in this third book I write from the POV of a bisexual, Scottish, vampire male. Is this too far out of my sphere of experience to write?

Well, I don’t know too many genuine vampires, so that one is out of nearly everyone’s experience.  Do I, a female, have the right to get inside the male psyche? Does a straight person understand how a gay person feels? I say, yes, because but every character written is part the author and part pure imagination.

I happen to think typical people don’t usually make for interesting characters. It is the extraordinary person that often becomes the hero or heroine of the book, even if he or she appears to lead a rather ordinary life. Jane Austen wrote about acerbic, critical Lizzie Bennett, not sweet, obedient Jane Bennett. Tolkien chose to write about the restless Frodo and Bilbo, not the peaceful Hobbit folk of the shire.

Is Cedric a typical teenaged male? Not by a long shot. Yet in some ways he is and has traits in common with a lot of boys his age. My training is in acting. The master acting teacher, Konstantin Stanislavski, spoke of something called the “Magic If”. In other words, what would I do in if thrust into this character’s given circumstances?

All people share common experiences and desires that allow us to empathize.

I always think of the song, I Want it All, by Queen when I think of Cedric:

 Adventure seeker, on an empty street.

Just an alley creeper, light on his feet.

A young fighter screaming, with no time for doubt.

With the pain and anger, can’t see his way out.

A lot of people would curl up and die in Cedric’s situation. He’s an orphan living on the streets, a rent boy since age fifteen, struggling with poverty and disease. These extraordinary circumstances of his life have shaped him into a survivor. I never lived in such dire straits, but I can call upon imagination and research to fill in the blanks personal experience cannot. In my own childhood, I was fortunate to have both my parents at home, as well as adequate food and shelter, but as an adult, I’ve faced serious illness and financial setbacks. In no way near the extent Cedric does, but my experience gives me a window into understanding his character. My personal reaction to adversity was to fight it and not let it beat me down, to always find an alternative, retain my humor and feed my creativity. In this way, Cedric echoes my experience.

The trick in writing someone so “different” from oneself is to thoroughly think out what this character is all about. Make his or her traits, likes and dislikes, and deeply held beliefs very specific. Give him or her a ruling passion or obsession, a family history and lots of emotional baggage. Everyone experiences these things. Don’t be afraid of a few warts either.

When I first developed Cedric, I had this image of a very damaged kid, but he lacked a purpose to drive him. Inspiration comes in strange places. I have a teenaged son who is a rock musician. He’s very serious about his music and spends hours practicing and learning about the history and lore of his craft. My son Donovan’s determination and dedication inspired me to instill Cedric with his great love for music. This character’s prime motivator is his desire to perform and be loved. But comparisons end here. My son is a very modest individual. Cedric is vain about his looks and loves to dress in somewhat flamboyant clothing, like the front man of a band. This trait is from my imagination and the wardrobe drawn from performers like Freddie Mercury and David Bowie, great rock showmen.

There many good exercises for developing well-rounded characters. I fall back on those I learned in acting. I keep notebooks of research and character ideas.  This is always fun for me. I ask myself all sorts of questions about my character, even if the information never ends up in the book. First off, there is the physicality. There are some who feel what a character looks like isn’t important. The actor in me says that's bull.  While long descriptive passages of narrative slow down a story, a hint of the physical appearance of a character and his garb can speak volumes about who he is.

Mother Teresa didn’t dress or behave like Lady Gaga.

Of course, you shouldn't have a first-person POV character give a lengthy physical description of his or her appearance. These hints can come out in dialogue or action. Instead of saying Cedric is very tall, I have him drop that information by having looking down at his friend Ricky, to whom he refers as, “a wee fellow in comparison”.

I also like to give my characters a “job”, even if they are creatures of fantasy realms. Cedric is a musician and temple dancer. He’s also a courtesan. This puts him smack dab in the middle of Immortyl political intrigue.

One point I’d like to touch on is the character’s flaws and weaknesses. A character can be sympathetic and yet sometimes behave cruelly or like a complete ass. He or she can show poor judgment. Nobody is perfect. Remember that you want to show your character’s growth. I had a writing group member read an isolated, early chapter in the book. She commented that she hated Cedric for acting stupid and immature toward his guru, Sandhya. Well, in the chapter she’d read, Cedric was acting like a spoiled brat, and Sandhya does deal him a well-deserved comeuppance.

The young man at the end of the book is very different than the selfish boy in that early chapter.

The journey is the thing. Getting there is all the fun.

Until next time,

Love and Dark Kisses,


Comment and enter to win a t-shirt with this butterfly design!

1 comment:

Julie S said...

I think it's really cool when authors create characters that are so different than they are. It's absolutely awesome when a female author can write from a male's point of view, and make it believable.