Saturday, February 27, 2010

Alternative Lives

Last week I wrote that readers often tend to think that I am very like my main character, when in fact, my life and values are quite different from hers. John noted in his post last Thursday, that in fact, we may not be our characters, but they are us.

This puts me in mind of a line that I use a lot when I speak about my writing (for as we know, a really good line must be repeated at least 100 times, or what’s a heaven for?), and that is : “Alafair is me, if I were entirely different than I am.”

Of course, all our characters are us, in one way or another, since they have to come out of our brains, and how could they contrive to know something that their author doesn’t, or to be something that their creator cannot conceive of.  And yet, that’s exactly what authors try to have them do.  When we write, we live alternative lives.

Alafair lives the life I never did, or never could.  Through her, I get to be a moderately well-adjusted mother of children, who doesn’t worry about her own shortcomings nor her place in the world, instead of what I am, which we won’t go into.

I get to live in a time and place that no longer exists, and believe things that no one believes any more. I think sometimes that there is something of acting in writing fiction.  Actors and novelists both have to dig deep to inhabit our characters and make them real. Sometimes it takes research into people and ways of life one would never come across in her ordinary life, such as a former computer programmer-turned novelist like Vicki inviting a police friend over to her house to teach her Close Quarters Combat, or actor William Hurt spending a couple of weeks in Angola Prison in Louisiana for a movie roll.  

Author or actor, if you want your character to come alive, something inside you has to live her life with her.

Finally, I have to say that I am very sorry that Charles Benoit is no longer going to be a regular Type M contributor. Charles was always a hard act to follow.  I’ll miss his wit and insight very much.  Then, of course, starting next week I’ll be posting the day after the remarkable Peter May.  If only Peter weren’t such a hard act to follow...


Tomorrow’s guest blogger will be Patrick Millikin, compiler, contributor to, and editor of Phoenix Noir, which Publishers Weekly’s starred review calls a “stellar volume in Akashic’s noir series.”


Judy Starbuck said...

Donis, isn't that the truth - as writers we get to live a life that we yearn for or a journey we would embark on if only we were brave enough, or young enough, or clever enough.

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