Thursday, November 5, 2009

Be The Dog

Along with a sheepdog, I have a lab. They’re different. Our lab is an amazing alarm system. She barks whenever anyone or anything gets close to our yard. There’s only one problem. She barks whenever anyone or anything gets close to our yard. The sheepdog occasionally joins in, but his barks are always half-hearted. He looks admiringly at the lab but feels no compulsion to adopt her philosophy of protection. The sheepdog’s practical view is that no one is any kind of threat unless they enter the house. People near the yard don’t count. In other words, there’s absolutely no need to interrupt a good nap for intruders that might never make it to the door.

How does this relate to writing? It doesn’t. I was at my desk doing what writers do, staring out the window, and the lab barked and the sheepdog woke briefly from his nap, that is opened his eyes, perhaps listened just enough to know no doors were being opened, and went back to sleep. The lab kept barking. Or maybe it does--sort of.

Dogs have personalities based on genetics and environment just like the rest of us. You’ve got to see into your character to write about the character. You’ve got to see through your characters eyes. Every character deserves your attention to this one obvious but sometimes overlooked truth to creating character: they see the world their own way. A villain doesn’t usually see himself as a villain. He’s misunderstood. He’s misused. He wants things, and he’s going to get them at any cost, but he deserves these things doesn’t he and isn’t everyone that way deep down? Well, no, but to him the answer is yes. Each character, if you’re in the character, sees himself or herself as the hero of his or her own story. My universe is not your universe. My character’s universe must be his or hers--distinct. Chekhov was a master at character. He wrote a story once from a dog’s point of view and it was great because he stayed in that POV. He didn’t make the dog human or see the dog through human eyes. He was the dog. Be the dog. Be your characters. Experience the world through your characters’ eyes and that will give them life.

Or so I think today.