Sunday, March 23, 2008

Public and Private

The other week I mentioned to some writer buddies that I see my website as "formal" and my blog as more "personal."

I've been thinking about that this morning and found another way to look at the same thing, and also apply it to my writing.

I produce a product -- my books. My website is like my showroom. Here are my wares, presented in a specific layout, and although there's some personal information, the website is designed to describe and sell my books, not to reveal a whole lot about me.

My blog is like the workroom in the back. Here's where I talk about how I produce the product. The nuts and bolts, the ups and downs, the highs and lows, the revisions and rewrites. Sometimes I invite folks into the lunchroom, where the discussion is less about the work than about what I'm watching on TV or books I've read. And sometimes I talk about my family.

But that's still less intimate than if I invited you into my home. This is where I invite my friends and family, where I'm the least formal and most truly "me" of all. Except for one other. Let's call that the bedroom, although I'm not talking about physical intimacy. I'm talking about emotional intimacy.

It's like that with the characters my books, too. Often (but not always) when the characters first meet, they are their "showroom" selves. It's them at their least intimate, most formal. Eventually, as they get more comfortable, they let the other character into the workroom, revealing more of themselves and how they work. Occasionally, they share lunch and talk about their family and friends.

Then, as they fall in love and become more comfortable, they invite the other character into their home, another level of intimacy. And finally, when they are in love, they reveal their most private, intimate self to the other alone.

This is the most common relationship journey I use, but as I said, not always. Sometimes the characters meet in the workroom, which means that if one then shifts to the "showroom" persona, the other character can be surprised and baffled by the change and believe that they were somehow deceived by the workroom persona, not realizing which one is actually the more representative. Or they could meet in the family persona, then switch to the workroom (confusing) or the showroom (really confusing). What has changed? Is it me? Is it the other person? Was my first impression right, or very, very wrong?

If time and space is limited, as in a novella, sometimes I have to skip layers, going straight from showroom to home, or from workroom to home or home to bedroom or some other combination.

However, I always try to have at least two layers to the characters. I don't like it when I seem to be getting only one layer of a character -- usually the workroom or family version -- and that never changes. That's my definition of a one-dimensional character.

Does this mean your characters should behave totally differently depending on the circumstances? No. It's more subtle than that. People who meet me in different circumstances probably wouldn't notice a huge difference in behavior, except at the more extreme ends of the spectrum, say prior to a root canal versus Christmas morning. Usually, the biggest difference is in my own head. I feel differently.

So should your characters, especially since this is the advantage of a novel over film or other media -- we are privy to their thoughts and true feelings, regardless of their outward behavior. AKA the joy and power of point of view.

By being in a character's point of view and privy to their inner thoughts, we can reveal, for example, that even the most confident, apparently secure hero ain't necessarily so. He may be and feel supremely confident in the boardroom (when he's in showroom mode) but insecure in a family situation, although he continues to act confidently. Same behavior, but very different emotional underpinnings.

But that's only half of it, because I also want to know why. Showing me a character with layers is good, but to make it great, I need to know how and why they developed. For instance, what makes the hero so confident in showroom room, while the heroine would rather eat dirt than make a presentation? Why does the hero feel out of his depth in a family/friends situation, while the heroine blossoms? It isn't enough just to show me this. I need to know why, or I feel the job's only half done.

I've said it before, I'll say it again. Writing isn't easy, or simple. There's a lot more to it than somebody who only reads the finished product supposes.

Which is why, I suppose, I blog. :-)


Kimber Chin said...

Ohhhh... I see Knave's Honor is off the sidebar. Dare I hope that there's a new book taking its place?

Build up to A Lover's Kiss! FINALLY, Drury's story. He is my fave of the bunch.

Kimber Chin said...

Oh, I just saw the Buggy's story is next year! YES!

Margaret Moore said...

Soon! A LOVER'S KISS is an August Harlequin Historical, so it should be out around the end of July. Buggy's in that, too. And a few other familiar faces. :-)