A writer’s maturation of character

Last week I wrote about drawing influence from published writers. Over the weekend, my latest influence revealed itself. Last week through Saturday morning I had been reading Robert Stone’s Fun With Problems, a collection of short stories dealing with heavily flawed characters existing in the darker side of humanity whether or not they even realize it. In some incredible feat, I spent at least ten hours on Saturday writing, rewriting, and revising a short horror story. I don’t get to spend that much time writing in one day usually, it was a strange feeling when I had wrapped it up for the night, like I had stepped out of time and reality. I didn’t want to come back at first, but my family came home, we needed dinner and so on.

The revelation came as I was reading the story aloud. Stone’s book influenced my approach to incorporating my protagonist’s backstories; slowly revealed details layered one on another creating a complex persona in as few words as possible. Without this awareness during the process, I found myself striving for new depths in character creation. Not to say I’ve never dug deep before; this was different.

I found specific intent in what I wrote about his past actions and their effect on the current-day storyline. Writing this horror story has become a psychological study of this heavily flawed character, seemingly laced with lessons in morality, maybe even spirituality. Good versus evil in this story became a thick pool of grayness, a viscous organic byproduct of several visceral systems malfunctioning in tandem. My flawless victim of circumstance born of mediocrity in the rough draft matured into a well rounded, wonderfully dark, and flawed character with the charm of a successful door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman and the patience of a hungry cat. I leapt over a hurdle I never knew was there.

Perhaps my protagonist, as different as he is from me, is my reflection or a second personality buried in my subconscious. We shall see.


7 thoughts on “A writer’s maturation of character

  1. David, it's great to see what you read can have such a direct and immediate effect on what you're writing. Wonderfully inspiring to think about as a writer – and a good reason to make sure that one's reading shelf contains good material and a minimum of junk.


  2. I loved flawed complex characters. I know you're thinking HBO shows here. One of my favorite shows, now gone, was Deadwood. Ian McShane's character was incredibly well-layered, seeming to be a despicable person on all levels until we realized the many minute flaws that were actually positive attributes. I find that appears in Boardwalk too with some characters, especially the deadliest ones like Harrow.I love rediscovering this love for character development in these books I have been reading lately. Great stuff!


  3. I do my best to avoid any junk. Because my schedule is so compact most weeks I am highly selective of what I will read. Some of it from the advice of yourself and Ron this semester, some on my own research of book reviews and recommendations. And yes, it seems with every author's work I enjoy I find myself incorporating some small element of influence into my own work.


  4. I think you are right about the flaws in your characters, and the series that comes to mind that I enjoyed was the main character from Carnival (from HBO) and it was interesting because of their own personal issues, and then the destiny overlay on things. That story has come along well, and I think you are maturing in the way you see your characters. Good characters shouldn't be like you, maybe just someone who agrees with you from time to time. I am reading The Hot Country by R. O. Butler now and I love his descriptions and how he moves prose. I have to quote this favorite, although I just started the book. "So I found myself with Bob Smith and a bottle of whiskey. He was gaunt, all right, but all muscle and gristle, of an indeterminate age, old enough not to have lost a bit off his punch. He had eyes the brown you'd expect of mountain-lion shit. He didn't like being called a "soldier of fortune," if you please, he was an insurrecto from the old school, 'cause his granddaddy had stirred things up long before him, down in Nicaragua, and his daddy had added to some trouble, too, somewhere amongst the downtrodden of Colombia before all the stink about the canal, so this was an old family profession to him, and as far as personal names were concerned, I was to address him by how he was known to others of his kind, which was to say, "Tallahassee Slim." From drinking with a stranger to Tallahasse Slim, it is good stuff. I like his style and I am very, very eager to dump my current book and get into this asap. Good writing and I hope that story is on an editor's desk, and not yours. Be well. RON


  5. Thanks Ron! Yes, the story is with the editor. I eagerly anticipate his feedback.Interesting quote, particularly the use of figuratively language. I need to Che k this book out.As for influence, over the past week I read several classic noir stories, as mentioned in a recent post. That and the hard boiled detective genre are old time favorites, though I hadn't spent much time on them in years. It was crazy, I felt like I found where my work belongs, supernatural or realism. Nice surprise.


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