To quickly address my loooong absence from this blog, well, it’s been a tough year. I don’t have much more to say about that, though I do plan to be around more often.
There is something specific I want to talk about today. Lately, I’ve seen a lot of authors referring to their characters as their “babies.” I probably noticed this because of my near phobia level pet peeve about referring to anyone over the age of one as baby, but it did get me thinking (and, really, over-thinking, as I’m sure some authors just use it as a cutesie saying) about the implications of this phrasing. If your characters must be loved and protected–like babies–how can you ever truly explore complex plots that involve emotional and physical trauma…that involve, really, any obstacles at all?
Because would you ever subject your child to, say, a world in which a totalitarian government rules, starvation is common, and children fight in a yearly death match to keep everyone in line? How about subjecting your baby to an abusive home life, injustice and prejudice, and also pitting him/her against the most powerful evil wizard who ever lived? Or how about making your kid into one of the weakest, smallest races ever and sending him/her out on a near impossible quest to the most evil place in the world, all while having to resist the subversive machinations of an evil ring?
Yeah, you see what I’m getting at here. No parent would intentionally put their children in these circumstances.
And the problem isn’t just with too much love killing the plot. An overabundance of maternal (or paternal, I suppose) feels can also turn your characters into Mary Sues and Gary Stues. Why? Because you want other people to love your precious babies just as much as you do, so you pile on the strengths and generally accepted good qualities, then don’t add any weaknesses or negatives to balance things out.
Well, what’s an author to do?
For starters, pretend your imagination is actually an inner eye which grants access to an infinite number of universes. Your sole voyeuristic purpose–the only thing that brings you any joy–is finding interesting happenings.
So, you spend all your time tuning into different worlds, spying on people, listening to their thoughts, and learning about them as they stumble through their lives. Who would be fascinating to watch? What would they be doing? Once you decide, write that shit down.
By becoming a “watcher” rather than a creator, you lessen the protectiveness that many authors feel toward their characters. As a chronicler of the trials and tribulations of people that (you’re pretending) exist outside yourself, you no longer have to play it safe in your stories (hey, you’re just telling it as you see it, right?), no longer have to give your beloved characters every virtue known to man (let’s be real–that’s freaking boring to watch), and no longer have to solve their problems for them either (they have to solve things themselves–you’re just watching, remember?).
But if you still cannot help but think of your characters as the most awesome-babykins-who-can-do-no-wrong-and-must-be-adored-by-absolutely-everyone-as-the-precious-cinnamon-rolls-that-they-are, my advice is to find a sadistic writing partner who gets off on making you–and your fictional offspring–suffer. Then you’ll have the best of both worlds.