“Day 2: Create a character with personality traits of someone you love, but the physical characteristics of someone you don’t care for.”
“She was Fat."
Wow. If ever three words could be used to sum up my entire personal outlook, there they are. I got up this morning with the task in mind. Had my breakfast, had my coffee, grabbed a piece of paper and a pen, and with Day Two's exercise printed at the top, I wrote those three words.
“She was Fat.”
It tells you everything you need to know. “She.” A woman. The physical characteristics of someone I dislike, and without thinking I choose : woman! Didn't have to think about it. Just went ahead and wrote it. Automatic writing. Nice move Dom. Nice move. Freudian Slip much?
“Was”. Well, that's helpful if I am in fact describing someone who used to be. Past tense, present tense, past tense, present tense.
“Fat”. How tolerant, how perfectly delightful of you Dom. Speaking as a man whose bear-belly gut has taken on it's own persona, whose naval-cavity is no longer a cavity, who can no longer gather fluff without foraging, you have a cheek. You're no Adonis mate. You wear XL tee-shirts in a vain attempt to cover the rounded mountain that once was your tummy. You're not the one to be pointing your flabby fingers, sir.
“She was Fat.”
Worst thing? I just wrote it. It's not based on someone I hate, or dislike, it was just a sentence. Something I wrote down without pause.
“Second Do of writing a blog : Be relatable, be yourself. What sets bloggers apart from newspaper article feeds is voice. Your content is what draws them in while your personality, or your voice in writing, is what will keep them there. Let your readers get to know you.”
Well reader, you've gotten to know me and all it took was three little words.
Let's start afresh shall we? Let's have a second cup of coffee in as many seconds, and let's start again. Let's pretend I hadn't written “she was fat” or better still let's blame it on the coffee.
The truth is, contrary to popular belief I don't actually hate anyone. I really don't. Though I'm capable of a certain amount of obnoxious intolerance from time to time, the truth is, I just don't see the point in wasting that much negative emotion on people I dislike. They're not really worth it, are they?
But okay, that's what the exercise wants. It wants me to choose a person that I dislike, and describe their physical attributes. Maybe that's where I got confused, maybe that's why I unconciously chose “she was fat”, maybe it really was a self-portrait and I should start with ME and work out from there. Maybe the physical attributes should be long hair, smug beard, angry-mouth belly button and glasses.
Nah. Too easy. So the exercise is asking me to create a character based on someone I dislike's physical attributes, but with the personal attributes of someone I like. Have to be careful in this regard, too. Whenever one writes something and one has friends it's inevitable that one's friend's sees themselves in one's characters. Luckily one doesn't have any friends, so that's a help to one.
So before I get to work I have to break down the meaning of this exercise. With the debacle of the ten titles still ringing in my ears, I have to try and understand what this exercise should accomplish before I begin.
I guess the main thing to note is that we're trying to create a composite character. Something that will allow us to face up to the person that we don't like, but also forcing us to do so through someone we do. Trying to perhaps create a likeable character, a sympathy with the person that traditionally we feel negatively toward. A lot of times as a writer you have to do this, to face a subject or a person you dislike intently but do so from an empathetic, or at the very least objective point of view.
I don't know how difficult this really is; there's countless books, plays and in particular films that make attempts to humanise the “demon”. Yet where “Downfall” humanises Hitler, “The Woodsman” ( and countless other films, oddly enough ) tries to humanise pedophiles, and The Oscars try to humanise Woody Allen, we're simply being being asked to empathise with someone we vaguely disregard or actively avoid. It's easy to write a bitch, or a bastard, partly because most of us don't like to think of ourselves being this way in real life while using it as a moment of catharsis to say what we often really think. I think we generally reveal ourselves through the characters we would like to think we hate. Is it easy to write someone decent?
Over the last two years I wrote and performed as a character who I had originally created as a cathartic reaction to an “experience”. “Papa Bear” was a composite of two men I had known and either feared, or actively disliked for their outmoded attitudes and often misplaced masculinity. The type of man who becomes a bouncer, or a security guard, a low-to-mid-level ranking male whose only authority is his physicality. I fear and yet admire these men in equal measure and it was this bizarre mixed mind-message that I wanted to explore. So I created “Papa Bear” as a way to explore a realistically dislikable character that I could ultimately allow a sympathy for.
Yet it was my personality that I channelled through him; of course it was, as a writer it can only ever be ourselves we write about. So in essence I “became” this person – both in writing and then in performing him. To the point when someone who had seen the last show referred to him as a “dick”, I actually blanched and found myself defending him.
In marked contrast to the ten titles, I think this exercise is a good one, it's practical, but I think it needs extension. It needs explanation or at least an end point. However, given my past excursion in that regard, I'm thinking I'll play it safe and just do what is required of me.
“Second step of addiction - make a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him.”
Okay, obviously there's no such thing as God but why not treat my understanding of the exercise, as that of my understanding of “God...”
The Basest Ease
“She stood and she waited. It was not something that came easily to her, but she reflected as the morning breeze tussled with the straw-like ( in her opinion ) straggles of her torn back and bunned hair, that waiting was never easy for anyone. No matter what we're waiting for. Waiting for the Dentist? Don't want to go in there. Suspense, drama, and at the end prodding and guilt.Waiting for a Candyfloss? Can't come quick enough. Why is it taking so long?
She wondered if those two thoughts weren't mutually exclusive. Candyfloss and Dentist, which comes first? Eat the wispy sugar-treat, face the pennance. Or get your teeth checked, drilled, and replaced, then treat yourself to a giant stick of Candyfloss! Two childhood moments simeltaneously struck, and together they brought a gentle bittersweet ache in her stomach which, given her situation, slowly ebbed into a continuous throb. Two childhood moments. She remembered a visit to the dentist; she had bitten through the floss into the stick. And she remembered that Charlie Brien used to call her Candyfloss hair. Her first and very unrequieted love. Funny to think of him now. She wondered where he might be now and discarded the thought. Who cares?
Not too many cars at this time in the morning. One or two, just enough to peak her attention and send her heart pumping, if only for a moment – although this morning the butterflies wouldn't stop their blurred flurry. She should know the sound of his car. But the beat of blood rushing through her body mutated each engine into the same, thrillingly monotonous drone. She didn't want to keep snapping to attention every time she heard that drone. She did it all the same.
She felt thin. She was thin. Too thin, cold, despite the sun's early attempts to comfort her. Wrong, this was wrong, this was very, very wrong. Why? She was risking everything for these moments. But what was she risking against her own happiness, however short lived it might be. That was the question, and there was the rub. She should have put on some make-up. She couldn't, couldn't alter her appearance for others; for him yes but not for others, they couldn't know. They couldn't. Too much at stake.
A car. Him? No. Someone she knew? What would she say, what explanation? She spent the wait composing excuses, knowing full well she would falter if actually approached. No one she knew. She could not rid herself of the tension. She was flexing her work-worn fingers. She should have put on some nail varnish, something just for him.
A car. Him? No. Had he forgotten? Was he running late. He would text to let her know. What if he couldn't? What if she – the “other” – knew? What if I'm standing here and waiting and no one comes because she knows? I should text. No. No, she couldn't. It was too soon anyway. Her mind raced through every possibility and her pulse followed close behind.
A car. Him. It was only when she exhaled that she realised she had been holding her breath until she'd seen his face. She smiled.”
So I'm trying to keep these blogs short. But did the exercise help? I think it did, I think again at the very least it helped me write.
Did I adhere to it? I think so. I'm describing people as I know and see them and I'm trying to create a certain amount of sympathy, if not empathy for this person that in real life I dislike thoroughly, one of the few people out there that I can just about get aboard the hate-train for, by applying the personality of someone I like. It worked, to a degree. For me, anyway. Has it changed my ideology? Of course not but then that's not the point, the point is to create a fictional character by creating a sympathetic headspace.
The situation is a perceived idea of something real. The memories are fictitious, just a manipulative way of creating sympathy. The physical traits are real. The personality traits, they're real too. Hopefully, they have allowed for a sympathetic character in what could be read as an unsympathetic situation.
It's an exercise that with a few tweaks can definitely be applied to the creation a new character.
Now, it being the weekend I'm taking a two day break, turning this into a fourteen day exercise. Live with it peepe. Live with it.
“Day 3: Write a setting based on the most beautiful place you’ve ever seen.”
Does Jenna Jameson's bosom count?