In John Irvingâ€™s A Widow for One Year, the main character Ruth is a bestselling author.Â Itâ€™s noted in the book that in all of her books thereâ€™s always one character based on her and another based on her best friend.
Working on my latest opus (note sarcasm) Chet Finley vs. The Machines of Fate, it occurred to me that the main characters are pretty much all based on characters Iâ€™ve written before.Â That bothers me because as an artiste, I should be expanding my boundaries and horizons and whatnot, pushing the envelope and not just doing the same thing over and over again.Â But then again since nothing I have is really published, you could also think of it as Iâ€™m just trying to perfect my formula.
The main character, the eponymous Chet Finley, is in the same mold as most of my â€œheroesâ€ for some time.Â I refer to them as â€œgood-natured dumbasses.â€Â Theyâ€™re usually kind of shy, kind of doormats, and kind of not the brightest people around.Â (Except for this one, who is the brightest person aroundâ€“supposedly, though her track record kind of belies that.)Â Frost Devereaux in Where You Belong is another example of this in that heâ€™s quiet, lets other people tell him what to do, and wasnâ€™t a straight-A student.Â So is this guy.Â And this guy.Â And this guyâ€“though he has a good reason!Â And him, though he doesnâ€™t have as good of a reason.Â Although again you could see this all as evolving the formula.
Really in 2005 was when I sort of bucked that trend a bit.Â In The Best Light, nature photographer Frank Hemsky is jaded and bitter most of the time.Â Then in The Changing Seasons (2005) I turned that evolving formula on its head by making the character a selfish cad, though he sort of redeems himself at the end.Â So Iâ€™m not exactly a one trick pony.Â But still, there are as you can see plenty of examples of that.
Also, Iâ€™ve noted all of my villains seem to be made in the same smarmy, Goldfinger-type mode.Â This is probably because my favorite villain is Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahnâ€™s Star Wars books.Â This is because he wasnâ€™t a bumbling dumbass.Â He was smart and won more than he lost.Â He would have won a lot more if not for the phenomenal luck of our heroes.Â So generally I try to make my villains more in that mode in that they arenâ€™t stupid, cackling dopes; theyâ€™re more likely to be stroking a cat on their laps.Â The best example of this is the evil goddess Isis in the Scarlet Knight stories, especially this one and this one.Â Though this one also features the evil Russian billionaire Sergei Bykov who kidnaps our heroâ€™s child and the renegade witch Sophie Joubert.Â Theyâ€™re all somewhat the same, except as a goddess (and an evil one) Isis likes to fuck with people more.
Anyway, if you read enough of an authorâ€™s books maybe you notice a pattern like that.Â Since Iâ€™ve read all of the aforementioned John Irvingâ€™s novels, Iâ€™ve noticed similarities in some characters.Â In a few of them thereâ€™s a high-strung girl who bullies the smaller, weaker male lead character.Â See, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Until I Find You just to name a few off the top of my head.Â Of course in Philip Rothâ€™s books thereâ€™s always a Philip Roth character, sometimes the author himself or sometimes using a thinly-veiled surrogate like Nathan Zuckerman.Â Iâ€™m sure you Phantom Readers can think of your own examples.
I think the source of this is that as they say, we â€œwrite what we knowâ€ and thereâ€™s nothing you know better than yourself.Â Or at least your self-image of yourself.Â I mean I probably think of myself as a good-natured dumbass, though I think other people are more likely to call me an antisocial jerk or just a hideous creep.Â For instance, just read my entries.Â Donâ€™t I sound like a good-natured dumbass?Â Kind of a slightly more articulate and less disingenuous Sarah Palin with my folksy wisdom and charm?Â I can also do bitter and ironic, like a homeless manâ€™s Jon Stewart.Â I would seriously struggle though to try and sound learned like one of those snobby guys you always see at cocktail parties in the movies, especially 19th Century parties where the â€œgentlemenâ€ are sitting around the fire with brandy and cigars.Â Iâ€™d also struggle to doÂ Glenn Beck-type Tea Party rants because I actually have a brain.Â (Seriously, I graduated magna cum laude!Â From a Division II school, but it still counts!)
Anyway, the point is that we all have a â€œvoiceâ€ based on who we are and how we see the world and thus thatâ€™s probably why if you write enough stories, a lot of your characters will seem very similar.Â Though it probably does help to try and shake things up a little bit.Â Like in the â€œMeet Cuteâ€ story I posted a few posts ago, the main character Tom is generally a good-natured dumbass, but heâ€™s also kind of a cad, though that was kind of unintentional on my part.Â Still, itâ€™s a slight bit of change in the formula, which helps to keep things fresh.
Really to think of it another way, I donâ€™t mind if a band changes their sound a little from album to album, but I really hate it if they change too much.Â I donâ€™t want to hear Counting Crows or Death Cab for Cutie trying to rock out, because theyâ€™re not going to be that good at it.Â And I donâ€™t want Coldplay trying to be all â€œartyâ€ like they think theyâ€™re the Beatles or something.Â Youâ€™re not the Beatles!Â That doesnâ€™t mean you have to just keep doing the same thing over and over again, but donâ€™t stray too far from your strengths.
And in case you havenâ€™t noticed, rambling semi-coherently is another of my strengths.
There will be another entry at some point in the future.Â When?Â I donâ€™t know.Â Follow me on Twitter and Facebook and youâ€™ll always know when!