Is it the Person, the Place or the Thing that Makes us Read? Or is it the Exceptions?
Today's Guest post comes from Mr. Marc Mattaliano.
Read some of Marc's writing here: https://www2.xlibris.com/bookstore/bookdisplay.aspx?bookid=72031&pdept=Bookstore%20Homepage&pfind=browseWriting since I was little, the best thing to describe Marc Mattaliano is his analytical nature that knows no bounds. Intelligence is defined as what you know, while wisdom is defined as what you get out of what you know. My personal experiences have been slight, but I have gained so much from each and every one of them by asking questions, constantly breaking things down and wondering if my choices have been the right ones, that I consider myself wiser than some who have endured far more than me yet are completely unwilling to question anything. When it comes to writing, despite having three full-length books (one self-published, one almost ready for queries, and one in need of major updating), my work may seem amateur to some, but I’ve come to find that everything I put together these days is extremely intentional. A lot of people say they don’t want to die with regrets. Personally, I love my regrets. They inspire me to do things better next time. I’m 30, born and raised in NJ, 100% Italian, and I’m a lot harsher in words than I am in person. Enjoy!
Is it the Person, the Place or the Thing that Makes us Read? Or is it the Exceptions?
Okay, that was fun. I just turned the three possible definitions of a noun into a reason for reading. Pretty cool. However, onto business. Sounds obvious, but each of the three items you see above play considerable roles in every story we read and write.
The people involved: whether they’re actually people (i.e., humanoids), animals, inanimate objects, aliens, whatever.
The places they visit: whether geographically on a map or chronologically in their lives.
The things they deal with: whether physical objects that hold sentimental value or circumstances that surround them.
Unless an author is expected to be a world traveler, or else a historian of wherever they live, I feel as if a great writer can still emerge even if they don’t know everything about the physical place in which their main character lives. After all, geography factors into who we are as people, but all depending on a person’s upbringing, geographic location can mean very little in the long run. In fact, like I said in a previous post, it can aid in prejudicing a reader into making judgments.
There is likely one well-to-do rich white guy living dead center of Harlem right now, a homeless crack-head sitting in a beautiful suite at the top of a Hilton hotel, and a blue-collar, middle-class, hard-working Joe who goes to clubs draped in bling bling, ice, rings, jewelry and every other shiny accessory that looks like it should be on a female partner and not him.
Point being, there are always exceptions when it comes to who we know as characters (whether fictional or in real life).
I’ll bet you’ve met at least one dainty lady who drives a pickup truck or SUV, haven’t you? I’ll bet you’ve met at least one 7-foot tall athlete who insisted on driving a smartcar. I’ll bet you’ve met at least one biker who watches prissy teen dramas in prime time. And I’ll bet you’ve even met at least one emo teenager who likes going hunting on the weekends with his or her father and/or mother.
Of course, all of these things form what we know to be a character’s bio, profile, outline, whatever you feel like calling it. Truthfully, though, is it more important to build a character that looks unique and have them deal with somewhat typical circumstances in “their own way,” or is it more important to build unique circumstances around a somewhat archetypal character?
Let’s do some thinking exercises. Get the blood flowing.
When you think about the people around you, do you typically see them for the clothes they wear, the style of their hair, the car they drive, the music they listen to, or the movies they watch? Do you define them by all of those superficial things that make up what they look like, how they kill time and the things that stimulate their minds?
Or, do you think about the choices they’ve made, the situations they’ve fended off, and the problems they’ve survived?
Take a look at a description of me, for example. I listen to rough Hardcore and Death Metal, I wear black t-shirts often adorned with scary imagery, I used to have long hair down to my butt, and my bottom half is usually covered with jeans, a black belt with band logos on them, and even though they’re getting a tad small, my indestructible Doc Marten boots. All of these superficial things suggest that I’m loud, tough, inspired by fast and abrasive music to do crazy, off-the-wall things, and I often act brash and reckless.
Well, that’s only about a microscopic fraction right. Occasionally, I can be a tad loud when excited about something. That’s it.
Deep down, I’m kind, shy, nice, I have an unimaginably powerful sense of humor, I always treat everyone I know with as much respect as I can (especially my fiancée, I treat her like a queen…sometimes), I’m very cooperative with coworkers, and despite a need to be honest with important people in my life, that sometimes pokes at me a little too much, I’m extremely easy going.
All in all, I feel like it’s that very contrast between looking a certain way and being very easy to get along with that makes me special. Obviously, we can’t write stories and not discuss what various characters look like, that’s just impossible. I’d love to see someone do it, but it’d be ridiculously hard. However, making a character look a certain way, fitting them into a typical model of what’s trendy to consider “weird” or “unorthodox” and assuming that character is going to come off as incredibly special and stand out just because of THAT is likely to fall flat.
On the other hand, we know all sorts of people in our lives. Jocks, nerds, athletes, book worms, policemen, firefighters, office jockeys, horse jockeys, scientists, soldiers, CEOs, farmers, you name a profession and you can pretty much guess some ways in which they act or look like. It may be deemed easy to make a new character and model them after something that everyone knows, but when you strip away the importance of those ultimately unimportant superficial aspects, like clothing, hairstyle, mode of transportation, etc., and get to who they are as people, you get a lot more interesting issues rising to the surface.
A farmer, let’s say, who wears his hat sideways, sews up the holes in his overalls himself, and harvests the hay and feeds the cows before bringing in the eggs, even though other farmers in his community might harvest the eggs first? Not super. Now, a farmer that watches cattle get killed and makes the decision to get swept up into the scheme? There’s a life-altering choice that shows how much or how little character this man or woman really has.
The question “what defines identity” has been asked countless times, and just about everyone has a different definition, as identity has so many things factoring in, it’s impossible to point at one thing as say, “that’s it!” However, what we can do is prioritize what aspects of a person are more important than others.
As we’ve discussed, we’ve all experienced sadness. Even though it’s said that “all of our lives bear a story to tell,” much of our individual sadness comes from the same basic places. Our family life, our schooling, items we grow attached to, friends we meet, interests we pursue, goals we set out to accomplish, etc. All of us can look at those things and in each category we can cite one thing that has made us unhappy.
But just like most other things about a person’s past, they’re somewhat superficial. You can have a man stay in solitary confinement for 5 years and come out perfectly fine, then again you can have a kid raised in a pristine, wealthy household, have all the amenities and privileges a child could ever want or need, and grow up to be a serial killer. With this unfathomable level of infinite possibility, how is that as authors, we think we can share a person’s whole backstory and assume it’s enough to tell about a character?
I could read about a character who drives a Hybrid. So what? I could read about a character who only wears jeans that have holes in the knees. So what? I could read about a character who combs their hair with an old piece of a front door screen. So what? I can watch the TLC channel and see people just as messed up as that eat powdered laundry detergent and collect rocks and I don’t have to do any work reading about them!
Are those funny little things really what make them who they are? Or is it more about the choices and circumstances that brought them to that point? Is it more interesting to see that there is actually a person out there that eats cushion out of chairs, knowing that there are even more screwed up people out there, or is it more interesting to find out how this one person came to do this?
By the way, watch Strange Addiction on TLC sometime. Those three things were done by real people, no joke.
Anyway, that’s what interests me: the why and what, the circumstances. Unless you design a special world or universe that you can call your own (which is a completely valid and a good method), no one in this particular Earthling world is all that special or unique. It might sound insensitive, but no matter how much sadness someone goes through when growing up, more than likely, we’ve all heard it before.
Kid gets experimented upon in a scientific facility, kid’s orphaned at birth, kid’s raised by wolves, pasts are all the same. It’s the present and future that matter most because those are the unknowns, the times that either are yet to happen and the times that haven’t happened yet.
Now what happens if an author presents that future to me…and I can’t understand it? There’s another problem. Tune in on 7/11/11 for more…