Know Thine Enemy (On Writing)

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? 🙂

The Exquisite Ishakpasa Sarayi, Majestic in the East

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About sputnitsa

Born in the US, I grew up in Africa and the West Indies, and returned stateside in my teens. After a decade in international development, democracy work, and inclusivity training for domestic NGOs, I joined Peace Corps, and after a year, experienced my first Russian invasion. I followed that up by volunteering with refugees and youth, and after some vacation time climbing minarets and mountains, I returned to New York City, where today I work on social justice with college students, produce short films, and write.
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11 Responses to Know Thine Enemy (On Writing)

  1. Beth says:

    I love the little click moments!
    I usually start with connecting at least the main characters, be it through their blood or professional ties. I have way too much fun with these little connections.

    Glad to see that everything is gelling together! 🙂

    • sputnitsa says:

      I’m really hoping I’m getting the nuts and bolts into the right places. 🙂 It’s like putting together a contraption without instructions. Like being MacGyver but, um…not. 🙂

      Exciting times 🙂 How’s your writing going?

      • Beth says:

        The novel’s stalling, unfortunately. I’ve decided to focus on short stories–two are pieces of the WWII novel, but the others are just random. But writing every day, pulling observations and real life adventures from my Italian adventures! 🙂

        • sputnitsa says:

          Yep, keep writing every day 🙂 I’m much more inspired and engaged when I’ve not let it slip at all. Whereas any break throws me for a bit…

          The short stories sound fun 🙂 Is there anything in particular with the novel that’s stalling, or just the huge road ahead? You can do it! 🙂

  2. ralfast says:

    I had a similar situation occur to me when I wrote my second WIP. Everybody sounded more interesting (especially the Nephilim) than the main character. Then again, I think it’s more of a question (in my case) of lack of description on my part. He certainly took a life of his own when he was seen through others eyes (especially the eyes of a woman who had orders to kill him if he went “too far”).

  3. “And I began envisioning this story (and the backstory) from the perspective of each character as the hero of his/her trajectory”

    Indeed. No one, in real life- and thus, that must be added to novels- thinks of themselves as the “baddie”.

    My “click” moments always come when I least expect them. Suddenly I’ll just finally get something…

    • sputnitsa says:

      That’s awesomeness. 🙂

      By the way, I’ll have you know that it was in ranting to you that I “found” my villain. So thank you for letting me vent all those moons ago 🙂

  4. Sputsie,

    You’re welcome. And I’m glad to listen to your rants any time.

    Of course, in return you must put up with my harangues about a certain, lovely language…

    • sputnitsa says:

      I cannot think which language that might be. Nein, I cannot. I have genichts geclueschmigten apfeldorf.

      🙂 Hey, it’s your loving rails as you flutter against German that have inspired me to take comfort in my beloved Russian, so I ain’t complaining.

      Plus, what insights into German! What brilliant expressions you have taught me! I tell you, German-speakers look at me differently today. Not loaded with respect, no, but still. Differently. 🙂

  5. They’d better look at you with respect. You’re an utter natural at German. Look at apfeldorf. der Apfel is an apple. das Dorf is a village. Das Apfeldorf. Apple village.

    Brilliant, my Sputsie!

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