Thursday, October 23, 2014

The Immaculate Conception of Birthing Characters in a Novel.

When my novel comes out, it will have been in gestation for 14 years. I daresay, raising an infant to the age of 14 would have been a lot easier than writing this novel, but you can't close the chapter on raising children, so I won't complain.

Here's the number one reason why it has taken me so long to finish the novel:

I didn't listen to my characters.

Bad move.

There is no such thing as writing.  Writing is channeling.  I have been fighting it for years, and it's taken at least 4 versions of my novel for me to get it right, or as right as its ever going to be.

We are in the Age of Aquarius, and are experiencing leaps and bounds of information-gathering from diverse sources, some far out there, and others through social media. I wrote earlier about how my research ended up presaging actual events, or prognosticated other facts, as I was gathering the information to write my novel.

The dilemma for me was how much should I listen to the characters begging for attention? Because, trust me, there was a battle going on, especially in a mystery full of potential suspects.

In my mystery, whichever character told the most compelling story got my attention. Amidst the din of the voices of adults in my novel, I heard the nagging voice in my ear of a teenager who wanted to belong in my story. As I don't have any children, I ignored it.  But as the years wore on, in the different iterations of my story, the teenager became more pronounced. He really wanted in.

So Melvyn was born.
Melvyn is in transition from being a Black American child to a teenager. He is navigating his life, trying to decide how he will comport himself in a country that sees him as a statistic, an ambassador for trouble: big clothing, hanging with his homeboys in the Louisiana suburbs (upper-middle-class, mind you). As far as anyone in the U.S. would see him, he's likely to be considered trouble. He does well in school, but tries to keep his street cred.  Apparently, there's a problem in some parts of Black culture that being intelligent is for nerds. Hopefully, he'll live long enough to accept that you can be both intelligent and fashionable. He's the product of a nasty divorce, but his father, a professional, is heavily involved in his life. Melvyn spends time with his father and respects him. It is easy to get lost in the shuffle, however, as both his parents work, and his yard work for a pair of male Hollywood types ensconced in the northwestern Louisiana university town will complicate his life.

I think Melvyn found me because, though I am childless, I feel for young Black boys who don't have the luxury of being multidimensional. They must be grown before their White peers, who only play-act at being rude-boys. I wonder if a Black kid ever gets to truly be a kid. Or does he or she have to stay grown?  To be vigilant? Don't trust. Don't show weakness. Be firm. Strong. Life is a struggle.

The following Daily Kos blog is worth reading as it says so much in fewer words than I would have used. And the Louis C.K. video is also worth viewing. He gets it:

My hope is that Louis C.K.'s progeny won't have the same luxury as he has, to be "better" than others by virtue of his skin color.

And as for Melvyn's story, will he ever be heard? I hope so. Let's start with one of his real-life teenage role models, Aaron, who suggests that Black youth should not be ignored, and the organization where his blog was posted, which is helping to give Black youth, like my fictional character, Melvyn, a voice.

No comments:

Why Reading Other Novelists Helps Improve One's Own Writing

A Conspiracy of Paper by David Liss My rating: 3 of 5 stars As someone who has written an in-depth novel with lots of characters and int...