Fictive Selves

I completely identify with Sophia Whittemore’s post today — sometimes its necessary to insert a bit of yourself into your fiction.

My best characters, the ones who have elicited the strongest reactions from my readers, have been those who display a distinct part of my personality. It’s not always the same quality; I’ve created characters who act the way I do when I’m at my best, and others who’ve displayed qualities I would rather not talk about.

And no, I’m not talking about some kind of personality disorder on my part. All of us behave differently in various circumstances; I was a different person as a son to my parents than I am as husband to my wife, or father to my own sons. Of necessity, I act differently at work than I do while at my fencing club. This isn’t weird — it’s life.

Yet I also strive to give each of my characters their own distinctive personality. When I review my writing and notice a character acting or talking in a way that’s almost autobiographical, I always revise.

My goal is to make my characters seem real to my readers, and the best way to accomplish that task is to weave a little bit of myself into their personalities.


One Man’s Garbage

Gabfrab writes an irregularly recurring series of first-person tales about a homeless hedonist in Austin Texas. His latest story is about a racoonish search for food that, shall we say, doesn’t come out right. The ending reminded me of my youthful days assembling models of rocket ships in my family’s basement; took me years to realize why working with rubber cement made me feel so content.


A recent story from Derek Alan Wilkerson demonstrates the peril of writing from a child’s perspective. The narrator attempts to convey thoughts from just before his fourth birthday, but instead of that kid’s voice, we hear the opinions of a cynical and not terribly insightful adult. A third-person narrative might have worked better.

Experimentation as Experience

Mandibelle16, reblogging a post from Ryan Lanz which reprinted an essay from Meg Dowell recounting the best writing advice Meg have ever received — can I stop with the attribution now? — makes an argument for experimentation, for following even the craziest idea to its end, for no other reason than to see what you encounter along the way.

Most of the stories on this blog start exactly that way, with an idea so compelling that my imagination can’t let it go until it is fully expressed. None of these stories is anything near polished, and most will never be revised; they’ll remain in their underdeveloped state, like the wooden skeleton of a framed house without walls.

I’m not always happy with the end result, but even when an experiment fails, I’ve found value in having gone through the process. Writing these stories not only satisfies the curiosity engaged when an idea comes to me, but also develop my skills in plotting, dialogue, and characterization. I gain valuable experience from each one of these projects, and I hope the day never comes when I stop enjoying the effort they require.

Life’s Current

One of the destructive myths about changing careers is that it’s all about you. Your decision, your talents, your initiative, your success or failure. In reality, the change has an effect on your family and friends, and your decisions are also influenced by them.

You’re also not the only one chasing a dream.

Three years ago, Arpita moved from her small state in India to Bangalore, the IT capital of the nation and a megacity of over 10 million souls, to begin her career. Having moved from a small town in rural New England to attend college in Chicago, I know her spiritual journey was greater than the physical. Nothing about small-town life prepares you for the energy, confusion, and danger of city life. But with the support of her family, newfound friends, and a nurturing employer, Arpita has found the success she had been seeking.

Arpita also uses a river analogy to describe her journey, and there’s a lot you can do with that metaphor. Rivers provide life, but contain a power that can be deadly if not respected; they follow a current that never flows perfectly straight; they can flow dreamily for long stretches, then suddenly erupt into roiling rapids.

I’m not sure where this river I’m on is taking me, but I know it will flow with the current of life. The going won’t always be smooth, but it will always propel me forward.

Keeping It Real

I’ve expressed my appreciation for Depression Comix a number of times — oh, here’s another — and today I’ll attempt to explain why I find these vignettes so meaningful.

At its best, comics can be a powerful storytelling format, especially when thought balloons are utilized effectively. Seeing character’s inner thoughts allows the reader to make additional observations on the dialogue, setting, and action in the narrative. Many mainstream comics have all but abandoned thought balloons, but they are an essential element in Depression Comix — and for good reason. Silence is a common side effect of depression; I know when I get down, I don’t want to talk about it, or anything else for that matter. And if I succumb to that instinct, my mood tends to become more acute, which makes me want to talk even less. It’s one of many vicious cycles that come with the disease, along with loss of appetite (I get depressed and don’t want to eat; being hungry makes the feeling worse, which further reduces my appetite… and so on).

Clay Jonathan, the artist of Depression Comix, often has his depressed characters not say anything to the people around them, or has them refrain from talking until the final panel. But in their thought balloons, these characters reflect on their experiences in a way they can’t verbalize to their friends and family. (Comic 394 is a good example of this technique.) This is how depression works — we can explain it to ourselves, but lack the power to explain it to others. By not forcing his characters to speak, Jonathan allows them the dignity of their silence, while still revealing the truth of their struggle.

In addition to being insightful, Jonathan is also a talented artist — his depictions of characters looking into mirrors, as in Comic 400, are visually stunning. And like any great cartoonist, he draws fantastic furniture. There’s a lot to like about Depression Comix, and I hope the artist continues with the site for a long time.

The Spirit of Competing

The latest poem from Matt has nothing to do with fencing, but it does express how I feel about the sport. Victory provides a special kind of exhilaration, and I’m curious to know what earning a rating feels like, but I never want the desire to win jeopardize the thrill of pulling a gray meal cage over my face and approaching my opponent, weapons in our hands.


It’s always interesting to find out more about new followers to my curious little blog, and I believe a fellow soul has recently made my acquaintance. Like me, Samantha the Reader writes book and movie reviews, shares her love of classic literature, writes her own fiction and poetry, and generally blogs about whatever suits her fancy. A recent story of hers, The Haunting of Mackleberry Bridge, demonstrates how to respond to a photo prompt. I’m eager to see what my fellow bibliophile has in store for her readers in the future.