Monday, February 6, 2017

Whose Identity Is It, Anyway?

For as long as I can remember, I have read for a while before going to sleep.  No doubt my mom took the book from my hands, took off my glasses, and turned off the bedside lamp more times than she would have liked.  These days I aim my wee little reader's light directly at the book so as not to annoy Patient Husband.  I'm currently reading a modern French translation of a work by the woman who will be my next main character, and I'm enjoying it immensely because, although I've read dozens of her poems, this work in particular has given me special insight into her mind. I was starting to wonder if she would come to life for me--and through this work, she has--but it wasn't until I turned off the light that I realized something else.

As a writer, I naturally create characters, the world they inhabit, and the problems they face.  Even picking real people and situations from history, I have to ensure my characters are fully, believably human.  This became less of a worry when I realized that my characters represent facets of myself in one way or another.  To me that's a big part of the fun, but what I realized last night is I must identify with my main character.  She can't come to life in my mind unless we become friends, as it were.  I need to know what motivates her, what her fears are, what keeps her up at night--and at least some of those things we need to share.  Last night as I lay thinking about what I had read, I was stunned to realize how similar she and I really are, even at a remove of some 600 years.  Even my fictional depiction of my grandfather from For Two Cents, I'll Go With You resembled me as much as I resemble him--although I didn't realize it before I wrote the book.  It didn't matter that the character was male.  As I read his letters home from the war and learned about what he did in France I came to understand that we share DNA both in real life and in the fictional world I created, and it's awesome.

Of course, human nature hasn't changed over the millennia; that's why we can read the epic of Gilgamesh, Greek theatre, or The Art of War and the works will still speak to us.  As Stephen King said, "All the arts depend on telepathy to some degree, but I believe that writing offers the purest distillation."  Because human beings figured out how to put little bugs on paper--to borrow Edgar Rice Burroughs' phrase--in ways that mean something, we can pick up something as simple and as cheap as a book and instantly enter someone else's mind.  Now I know that someone is both the author and his/her creation.  No wonder I miss them when I finish writing.