Sunday, May 24, 2015

My least favorite question

I've mentioned it before, but it bears repeating, my least favorite question isn't the infamous "Where
do you get your ideas?" I like that question, actually, and cannot understand how anyone could move through this world and not end the day with their pockets stuffed full of stories (whether they have the will or the wherewithal to write them down is another matter).

No, my least favorite question is "Which character is you?"

The thing I like about "Where do you get your ideas?" is that it has as its underlying theme a genuine understanding that this writing thing is something I could do if I could just understand how to get started.  The question of which character is me gets at a fundamental misunderstanding of what fiction is, much less how it is done.

I probably didn't help much by writing in character as Dr Deeds on Twitter. That isn't to say that Howard's mad science teacher doesn't have a lot of me in him, but no more or less than Howard, or Old Suit, or Erica for that matter. But none of them are Scott in disguise.

I can't think why I'd want to put on Groucho glasses and a wig and wander into my story. "Nothing to see here, author coming through, carry on, nothing to see..." what a distraction that would be.

Which isn't to say that authors never inject themselves into their stories. "Never" is a dangerous word and almost always the first word of a lie. Some writers do and I find it deeply annoying in much the same way that I've grown to hate the inevitable Stan Lee cameo in every Marvel movie. Let's step out of the story for a moment while we all acknowledge the creator of this fictional narrative we were enjoying before you interrupted it for an inside joke.

It can be done right, and carefully in the correct circumstances (Kilgore Trout springs to mind). But you don't serve your story or your reader by forcing your story to form around an ego trip.

That's the fundamental conceit of fiction that this questioner doesn't understand and a bridge that far too many have trouble crossing. The purpose of storytelling is to let both the reader and the storyteller live lives we'd never be able to live, to experience things we might never encounter, to feel empathy for people we've never met or never could.

All of these kids and mad scientists and government agents and robots and alien creatures are part of me, but none of them are me. We use stories to inject ourselves into other lives, other times, and other situations. To breathe humanity into dry history and to postulate very ordinary human reactions into extraordinary situations. None of it requires me to inject myself into the story as a thinly-veiled character and nothing would be served except my own ego by doing so.

Which character is me? All of them. And none of them.



Next weekend, I will be in Port Townsend, Washington for The Brass Screw Confederacy May 29-31st.  There will be writers panels, radio shows, and other shenanigans.

I hope to see some of my Seattle-area folks there!

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Pages to Type is a blog about books, writing and literary culture (with the occasional digression into coffee and the care and feeding of giant robots).