A few months ago I watched a movie about Salinger. It was sort of biographical. It interviewed some people that met him, and some other people that were just admirers. There was a line in it that I carried with me. It was something along the lines of "Salinger used to talk about his characters as though they were real people."
It was a peculiar detail and I thought about it for a few days. I'm not sure if I've ever put anything in here about it, but it's a nice train of thought thinking about where characters live. You know, they exist in the minds of the authors and in the minds of everyone who reads about them. When an author writes something down, he has intent about the what the people are like, but readers might not pick up on that. Instead, they might pick up on something completely different.
It's a fun thought and it's been important to me because I value characters so much.
A little while after the movie, I tried to think about the characters I was thinking of as though they were real people. I imagine an man named Andrew, who works in sales and isn't happy with his life. His girlfriend broke up with him a while ago, but she still talks to him sometimes. She'll ask him for favors and he'll do them, but somewhere inside he knows she won't come back to him.
The second character I do this with is Alisha, who is a younger girl who is sharp, but she doesn't have everything figured out yet, but she's working on it.
Yesterday, I was talking to a friend of my about their makeup routine. I couldn't imagine what Alisha did in the morning, because I wasn't familiar enough with what girls did. She asked me about the story I was trying to write, and I tried my best to tell her about it. The thing about it, I really don't like synopsis'. They don't tell you the important things. So I tried to tell her about the important things, that she was just a girl who was figuring things out. And she had a mother that treated her as an adult and a father who is sensible and nice.
I talked about Alisha as though she existed, and she was her own being, her own person, and the people in her life were like that as well. It was the first time I half believe that I didn't just make her up. It's a lot different thinking about Alisha as though she were real, and actually articulating her into words to someone else.
Last night as I was laying in bed I thought about how strange that was. And then I thought about Kelsey Grammer.
I read his book a couple of weeks ago and he talked about how seriously he took acting. I would pull out a quote from it, but returned it to the library. I'll paraphrase. Acting isn't lying. It isn't about putting on a mask and convincing the audience that you are the character you say you are. That type of acting isn't true acting, it's just lying to the audience. And they know you're acting, because you're trying to hard. You're putting on skin that isn't yours, and you know it isn't yours, and you're telling the audience "Why yes, I am Romeo. Isn't this mask convincing?"
What true acting comes down to is believing you're that character. You, yourself, actually become that character and immerse yourself in what it means to be them. Only once you believe you're that character will the audience see how genuine you're being. And that's what acting is.
I thought about that, and then I thought about characters. If you don't believe in your characters, it'll show through. It's what the 'hero' is in video games. It's a clique that doesn't have any depth, because he isn't real. And not only do you know he isn't real, the players do too.
Real, true characters come from believing in them. Cole Phelps doesn't exist because someone calculated every little thing he would do, but that he breathed through the writers. The writers believe in Cole and in turn he gives to them his depth and flaws and mistakes and quirks and personality traits.
Do you see the difference? It sounds funny, doesn't it? But I really believe that good characters don't come from trying to make them that.
When I think about older stories I wrote, like Into the Program, Felix is only what I wanted him to be. He exists only to tell a story, and that story is the one I wanted to tell. I created Felix thinly, and so he exists thinly. When I look back on Into the Program, I see that it's entertaining, but I don't see the depth I've come to appreciate.
And that's what it comes down to.
It's a peculiar understanding I've come to, but I like to think that it's my way of stepping forward as a writer. Maybe, in a video game sort of way, you could say I gained a level.
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