Saturday, September 8, 2012

Bigger 9 - Getting Crazy

Algis Budrys once said that all interesting characters were certifiably mad. They are imprudent, action-oriented, and obsessed.

So are many writers. Some that I know terrify me with their stunts, extreme perspectives, and picaresque lives. The characters they meet in the real world compete with the best in fiction. It seems like a great advantage to a writer when they have friends who are available and ready to become memorable characters in their scripts and novels. If this is the kind of writer you are, congratulations. If you live long enough, you have the ingredients for bestselling fiction.

But maybe you're more like me. Not John Belushi. Not Hemingway. More Bob Newhart. Is there any hope for us? Can we create big characters?

Certainly, we can listen to our adventurous friends. When they introduce us to larger than life people,  we can bring all our powers of observation and storytelling to what we experience. It's not the same as being crazy, but it's a start.

What else can we do?
  • Research - No matter how cautious you are, you can read about the range of human behavior. A book like The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat will extend your knowledge of what is possible at the limits of the bell-shaped curve. If you are more daring, go where extreme people are. A friend of mine directs a drama group at a federal prison.
  • Imagine - What would you do if your life (or a loved one’s) were threatened? Or if there were no social constraints? Or consequences?
  • Notice blind spots - It is hard to recognize what you don't see, but it is easy to notice when others around you use circular logic, ignore the facts, and interpret reality in unexpected ways. Here's a tip: if you irritated, perplexed, or surprised by an opinion or justification, step away from your emotion and inhabit that peculiar mindframe. You may discover something valuable.
  • Explore - Take an assumption or longheld belief and abandon it for a day. Take the opposite view of what you believe. Give the mad idea the benefit of a doubt and see where it takes you.
  • Get to know people better - That mundane person at work? What is she hiding.
  • Be prepared - When you happen upon an eccentric or bizarre person, don't waste the opportunity. Be ready with questions.
  • Recognize context - Behaviors that are perfectly fine in one situation are nonsensical in others. Dancing at a party is fine. At a funeral Mass, not so much. Transpose what is normal and easy for you to relate to in one arena into another where it is uncomfortable, and then explore why a person might feel their behavior is necessary.
None of this may make you as crazy as your most adventurous friends, but maybe it will nudge your character toward certifiable, toward being authentic and unpredictable. And that will make your story bigger and more likely to reach larger audiences.

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