Every morning, bleary or bright, I gaze down on my beloved streets of New York and assess the people below me. How huddled are they against the weather, how languidly do they swing their arms—in other words, what shall I wear today.
But they, unaware of my strategic use of their existence, unaware even of my central existence in the world, have their hearts, spirits and minds focused on entirely different things unknown, undreamed by me. After all, we’re all the hero of our own stories.
Initially in writing my book, I found my antagonists’ characters much easier to sense than those of my protagonists. It drove me mildly batty. My limpid villain pushed me over the edge—his only contribution to the book. Finally, I fired him.
When I tossed him and elevated a tertiary antagonist to the role, this guy was THRILLED. He’d been wanting just this kind of job. He danced a private jig he thought I didn’t see, and tried not to cackle in relish. I was delighted.
Now I could focus on fixing my wooden protagonist. And then an incredible idea (read: the obvious) occurred to me.
I asked myself, “who are these people to each other?” And I began envisioning this story (and the backstory) from the perspective of each character as the hero of his/her trajectory.
Wow. Things are finally coming together. The internal logic of the story, the web of relationships, the history of entanglements, dependencies and favors owed are all knitting together. The question of who-are-they-to-each-other also takes into account what we all know—that we see ourselves differently with different people. We all hold mirrors up to each other, and those mirrors are part of how we relate to one another (and to ourselves).
One person can make us feel like a hero, another like we have nothing to prove, and another can make us feel useless.
We can have a relationship with someone solely on how they make us feel about ourselves. In a sense, we relate to them as to different parts of ourselves.
Having characters that fly by themselves, devoid of relationships that are part of a story, weakens one’s connection to them. Bonding them in a variety of ways somehow deepens our sense of them, and also opens them to reveal different parts of themselves to us. It also allows us to see them grow as they relate differently to a variety of people around them.
What are your “click” moments with your characters? What usually sparks it for you? Or is there no “usually” in writing? 🙂