Did you speak to your head teacher the same way you spoke to your Mum?
Of course not. You adapted, instantaneously, without a conscious thought. ‘Yes, sir,’ one shoe polished on the back of the other sock before daring to enter The Presence. Or, if you were the Rebel, you’d probably have planned your tactics in advance: how to get away with what you want, purposely flouting Authority’s expectations while hopefully keeping your safety paramount. A neat trick – so long as you instinctively knew precisely what expectations in posture, facial expression, eye contact, tone of voice the head or the mother holds. Even Rebels have to know how to rebel.
None of us is one person. We are many.
So here I am, both of me. I’ve done my best for so many years to keep my SF&F hat separate from the one I donned for the agony aunt business. But this year I’ve had books published in both arenas so I’m not going to be schizophrenic any more. I’m wearing the duel crowns of therapy and speculative fiction. The image that springs to mind is the uniting of the Crowns of Upper and Lower Egypt. Is that me being egotistical? I hope not. I’m not saying I’m the queen of writing or anything. In my eyes it’s because I’ve just watched one of those documentaries about archaeology, and about how two differing ethoses – (ethos? ethi?) were united.
Because I do think the kingdoms of the mind and of the ‘verse are wonderful gifts to all of us who love reading or writing. Or art! They are fabulous places to explore. Picture those beautifully-coloured nebulae birthing a new Milky Way. I’ve been really privileged to be able to follow great explorers into the Black and into the myriad (gosh! I never thought I’d use the word myriad any time soon) dimensions of our collection of selves through time.
What scenes are flashbacks in your memory? Embarrassment? A stab of jealousy? A pang of regret? And what movie is your brain making of your future? An infinity of self-loathing? Grey boredom dwindling into the grave? The possibility of some dreads or the certainty of others? What’s most deeply etched is the feeling. There’s not a one of us who can’t say at some point or other, ‘Been there, done that, got the scars to prove it.’
But we don’t have to tie ourselves into the depressing views we developed in response to past oppression. We can’t change the past but we can make new decisions about ourselves, other people and our place in the world. We can choose greater freedom and joy. Personal evolution!
All of which is a useful insight into characterisation, I’ve found. It enriches the joy of people-watching, of which speculation – story-telling to make sense of people’s lives – is a great part. It’s a fascination with something beyond the sphere of our personal physical feelings. Consciously choosing to think about one particular topic is a path from emotion to cognition. QED it takes us away from 100% nitty-gritty emotional experience to a realm of greater detachment and peace. It’s an act of creativity, an affirmation of our connection to the worlds outside.
What about the other bits of our experience? We’ve done feeling. We’ve done speculation. We’ve talked of our travels through time, where we recede into an infinity of mirrors, growing smaller and younger until we hit the void of blankness when we couldn’t do rational thought.
But the next task is to decide where the character is going, whether that’s the one your drawing or writing is headed, or whether it’s you, the individual you that you call “Me”. We have to step into our characters to make them real. After all, we see them through the lens of our own experience. Are you heading for the peaks? For the rich woods and dells of the lowlands? To misery or glory?
Because motivation is pretty much what decides how the story turns out. Which aspects of your character’s self is he or she going to concentrate on? The moving-towards-happy ones? The problem-solvers, the suck-it-and-see ones? The ones who know it’s worth giving it a shot? To paraphrase that well-known dead French writer Simone de Beauvoir, ‘I am what I choose to become.’
Which pretty much sums up characterisation, don’t you think?
Except for the bit where wanting to change a feeling leads to problem-solving thinking. And if that don’t entail acting to bring something better about, it ain’t worth a row of beans.