Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Well, I Suppose It Comes From Your Life…

Last night as I lounged on my in-laws’ couch half-heartedly revising the beginning of the first chapter of my newest novel while the TV blared some CSI spin-off, Margaret asked me in a typically Minnesotan fashion where my ideas came from. “How do you think up all that stuff? Well," she answered herself, "I suppose it comes from your life.”

“Yah,” I said, in the traditional Midwestern way. “It does and it doesn’t.”

We’ve talked about where ideas come from before on this blog, so, instead, I wanted to comment on what Kelly brought up about real vs. realistic. Because part of my answer to Margaret was, “Well, you know, a lot of what I write is fantasy. It’s not something I could experience, even if I wanted to. I have to make that stuff up completely.”

Probably, if it were not nearly eleven o’clock in the evening, I would have tried to answer Margaret more completely.

So I understand what Kelly is saying about the joy of writing characters larger than life. After all, Harry coined the idea of a “Babe-onic plague” for why all the people (particularly the men) in my novels are ruggedly handsome. It’s like Garrison Keillor says about the people of Lake Wobegon, “All the women are strong, the men are good-looking, and the children are above average.” When someone confronted me about it, I said, “Hey, listen, this is a fantasy novel and a world populated by hotties are *my* damn fantasy.”

There are very few people in my real life as good-looking (or as available) as those in my novels.

Plus, the nature of speculative fiction often requires somewhat larger-than-life characters. Vampires and, as in Kelly’s WebMage the children of Greek gods, aren’t likely to be typical, bumbling humans.

However, and here’s where I’ll respectfully disagree with Mr. McCullough, I most enjoy reading and writing about humans who interact with these supernatural/metahumans. Kelly and I have joked in the past that he prefers to write about the superhero and I write about the superhero’s girlfriend. And, it’s true, and this is where my conversation connects to the one I was having with my step-mother in-law. I tend to write with questions in mind like, “How would I respond to realizing that guy I’ve been chatting with at the coffee shop after hours is really, and for true, a werewolf” or “What if there was incontrovertible proof that my next-door neighbor was a space alien?” (Which, actually, I have often suspected.)

For me, as I’ve suggested on my own blog, this is a sneaky way for me to continue to play pretend as an adult. I can do a little Mary Sueing, though I always write characters which are more not-me, than me.

Although you could argue that many of Garnet’s personality traits are mine. Certainly, I like to infuse her with some of own "dorkiness,” if you will. Characters who can be silly and vulnerable tend to garner my sympathy when I read them in other people’s work, so I cultivate those traits in my own.

Even when I was a RPGer, I tended to enjoy those moments when my characters were stupid. One of my favorite campaigns happens when our GM decided to use the “fumble chart” to read off the things characters could accidentally do when they’d rolled a score so low as to actually be harmful to themselves or others. My character, Fred the Wood Elf, got quite the reputation as “friendly fire” that week. For me (and I think the other gamers), that totally made that campaign fun and memorable… much more than the ones where we were all brave and heroic and full of f33rsome skillz.

My characters tend to be idiots, because I'm an idiot.


Muneraven said...

Nothing dumps me out of a book or story faster than a main character without significant flaws. Bleah. Give me an idiot anyday because THERE is a character who has someplace to go: UP.

I'm rather a Robin Hobb fan, and in her latest series (Soldier's Son trilogy) she has a main character who is so naive and blockheaded at the beginning . . .and I LOVED avidly following him as reality kicked his butt. Two big fat novels about a guy who is a REALLY slow learner. It works for me.

The only time a character who is idiotic about something doesn't work for me is when previous evidence indicates that the character would NOT be stupid in that particular way, and yet she is. Pick a good brand of stupidity and stick with it, sez I. :-)

Kelly McCullough said...

I wasn't really talking primarily about writing about meta-humans, and certainly not about people without flaws. What I was talking about was a certain amount of simplification.

I have found in the past that the characters I get the most grief over are those most drawn from real life. If, on the other hand, I take a model of person from real life and remove some aspects, enhance others, and generally render them as more of a subtle caricature than a true human character, my readers like the result better.

On the meta-human front, with nine novels written and six more in various stages of development, I've only had 3 meta-human protagonists out of total of 14.

tate said...

Hey, I'm sorry. This post wasn't written to be an attack, Kelly. I thought I was riffing on an idea you sparked in me... and, anyway, didn't we used to joke about the metahuman thing?

Kelly McCullough said...

No need for an apology. Sorry if I sounded defensive. That certainly wasn't my intent. And, yes, we did and do indeed joke about the meta-human vs. the girlfriend of the meta-human, and I expect it's something we'll continue long into the future.

I really just wanted to clarify what I meant about simplification of characters and writing the world as it should be rather than as it is.

Reading back over my response here, it does sound defensive. Definitely not my intent. I suspect that it's because I'm in kind of weird place literarily at the moment with only WebMage and shorts out there for readers to see and 8 other completed novels in various stages of being looked over or under contract.

It's more than a little strange to hear people talking about WebMage as a 1st novel, when to me it's a 4th. Actually, that sounds like something to front page, so more on that in a bit—probably tomorrow when I've got time to really write.