Someone asked yesterday, on one of the sites, how reading all the Debbie Ford stuff and other similar things I talk about could possibly be of help in writing (beyond the obvious of gathering a little store of case histories or “stories” to work with). The answer was “character development,” which is something that many books and classes and workshops teach, but only partially so, for they forget the most important part of character development in a story. As I said in reply to another comment:
It applies to both ends of the pen.
If all you do is fill out a series of worksheets about character traits, history and one-liners about their motivations it is the equivalent of creating a paper doll and clothing it with written words. Not much will be there when that character turns to the side and the writing that will be used to communicate the nature of the writer will lack depth and ease – it will become almost like having a commentator in the book, “Susan’s bad childhood led her to mistrust strangers.” Or an unnatural reliance on clichés to try to convey information: “Sam wore his scars from being in war deep within.”
Each of those sentences conveys a very superficial amount of information about the character, but lacking depth and understanding, the character never rises from the page – a full, fledged person in the readers mind.
With a deep and thorough understanding of the self of the character, what the writer will choose to set to paper as a record of their character becomes much different and more evocative.
“Susan moved her fingers, as if playing a piano, while she absently watched the children at play; her vague unease slowly melting and finally breaking apart.”
“Sam knew his face was tan and slightly flush with the sun, but his eyes only showed him a dust colored vision in the mirror, as if he wore lenses of sand.”
In coming to understand how a character works, like any good psychologist, we must also look within ourselves and understand what the character represents to us and how we relate to them. It is a process of self-revelation that begins anew as you work with each character, even if working with the same character across different manuscripts – the meaning and understanding of their self and your self-changes.
I was talking with the person who is helping me get through the maze of writing the city and they became particularly excited as I began to outline what was coming up and the entrance of Sadima and first encounter with Lootma (the demon of hope). She whipped out a pen and wrote down a title of a book. It is very old and very interesting, I mean, I am glued to it.
It is Hervey Cleckey’s book, The Mask of Sanity, and it is about psychopaths. But not psychopaths as we have come to think of them and even to approach treating them clinically, the fifth edition contains many updates and he cautions that the medicolegal and psychiatric world has over simplified the meaning of the word. Then, the media has created a false understanding of what/who they are in society.
He postulates that it is a far more common disorder than imagined and that only about 2% of all psychopaths are incarcerated or even arrested. The rest are among us, passing under a mask of sanity wherein without a thorough assembly of their history the pattern cannot be seen. They are doctors, businessmen, teachers, psychiatrists; they are strewn among us like dark, dull jewels. But oddly enough, even if their mask fits very well, there is something that can always be detected, even in passing that is just not right.
My friend, after I described Lootma, thinks she may be the classic psychopath. I am starting to agree – the book is very, very long and I only just started but already I am starting to see areas in the poem where I can bring in more and do it better to present Lootma. Armastas, the Goddess of Love, is her mirror opposite. Funny that in really digging into what a psychopath is, I am discovering what a healthy person is – what they look like, what they sound like, how they act – the nuances of self that can be seen and act as nonverbal signposts to guide us in our relationships.
For the odd goal in all of this worrying and reading and plotting and planning is that when pen finally hits paper – the reader must never know or feel that this is what lies behind all the words. The words must reveal, but through the reader assembling their own revelation, directed by the author as it may be. That is were the avoiding of “over-intellectualizing” comes in; I have to do all the work, but the presentation has to be natural.
And by the by, his chapter on James Joyce is fascinating and his exploration and explanation of how perfectly sane, normal and intelligent people would come to believe in things that are the creation of psychotic and disturbed minds is both sensical and frightening when you look at the modern world.
Now, even though I am working with archetypes because of the form of the poem, one of the things I am discovering is that archetypes have changed since the coming of the industrial revolution – the hero, magician, shaman, witch – those are archetypes that had a resonance prior to the Industrial coming. I think this is why there was such a block of brilliant writers – Chesterton, Jung, Assiagioli, Fromm, Frankl and Clecky who rose up and began to beat the drum and say “human nature has changed.” But what has it changed to?
Ok, time to fire up the engines for the day.
c.2011. Cassandra Tribe. All Rights Reserved.