Friday, June 16, 2006

More on Characters

I wrote the first four pages of book 4 last night. Woo hoo! It's funny how quickly I was able to fall right back into Katie's voice. I've noticed that she's a little more sarcastic than I am. She may be one of the least edgy chick lit heroines ever, and yet she's edgier than I am. I'm not quite sure what that says about me. In those first pages, I've introduced a new "love to hate" character who should be tons of fun to write. She might possibly even be more fun to hate than Mimi is (and now I'm picturing an epic to-the-death cage match bitch-off).

As the ultimate proof that I'm now into a new book, I had trouble sleeping last night. All kinds of bits of scenes and snippets of dialogue kept popping into my brain. Then once I finally fell asleep, I had bizarre dreams that managed to combine all the characters I've been analyzing in discussions lately, along with my own characters and stories. Trust me, the world isn't ready for a blend of Harry Potter, House, Firefly, Angel and my books, with maybe a bit of Carpe Demon thrown in. It was downright disturbing.

Going back to the characterization and archetype topic from the other day ... we got into some discussion in the Live Journal comments trail, which got me started thinking some more about it, especially the Lost Soul vs. Professor issue, which is what I've argued about even with someone who wrote the book on archetypes. (Some of this may be a repeat for those who read the LJ comments but possibly phrased more coherently.)

I think the Professor and the Lost Soul are very easy to confuse because on the surface level, they have a lot in common. The Lost Soul may be a bookworm because books make good companions when you don't have anyone else in your life, and developing a special skill or area of expertise is a good way of finding a place for yourself in a group. If you can do something they need that other people can't do, they have to let you in (see Wesley in Angel, who managed to worm his way into a group where he wasn't entirely welcome because he was useful in translating demon languages). Meanwhile, the Professor may be a loner, but he's lonely by choice because he likes to focus on his work and people can be illogical and annoying. The Lost Soul can't help being a loner because he doesn't belong, though later in life when he's been rejected too many times he may start keeping himself apart as a protective measure. He still wants to find a place, though, even if he's afraid to hope for it.

The difference, as always, is in the "why." If you aren't sure which type you're dealing with, think about his childhood:
Was he alone a lot because he was the weird kid who was always reading and because even if the other kids asked him to play, he preferred not to go? After all, why would you want to chase a ball around when you could be reading or doing science experiments? (Professor)
Or did he turn to books and other projects out of loneliness because he had no friends and his parents were gone or too busy to acknowledge his existence? (Lost Soul)

I mentioned that I disagreed with the archetype book where it classified Harry Potter as a Professor when I think he's a Lost Soul. All you have to do is look at his reaction to finding out he's a wizard. Yeah, he thinks the idea of magic is cool, as any kid would, but his primary reaction is joy to find out that there are other people like him, and that there are people who knew his parents, which helps him feel closer to his parents. That's a Lost Soul. A Professor would have been jazzed about all the things he was going to learn. Harry's just glad to be able to find a place where he fits in. What he sees in the Mirror of Erised is another clue. There's also some plot element about him feeling ostracized or like an outsider in every book so far. I do think that as he's growing up, he's evolving into a Warrior, especially at the end of the last book where he's willing to give up the security he's gained in order to go after his mission 100 percent. You know he's no longer such a Lost Soul when he has the strength to willingly remove himself from the things that he's previously clung to in order to get his job done.

The best example of the flipside of the Lost Soul vs. Professor issue, the Professor who may look like a Lost Soul, is Dr. Gregory House on the TV series House. Yeah, he has all that inner (as well as physical) pain and lots of psychological issues, and he's a loner, but he's still a Professor. He chooses to be alone because he finds people annoying. They're illogical and they lie. Science, on the other hand, doesn't lie. As long as you do the tests right and interpret them correctly, you can trust them. His primary motivation is solving the puzzle. He'd prefer to forget that there's an actual human being behind the symptoms and test results. Even when he seems to care about someone, it's usually because he wants to solve the puzzle of whatever's going on with them. They made a point of introducing his parents and showing that they're nice, normal, loving people, so it's not as though he's been emotionally scarred by his upbringing. He's chosen to be this way (and they've also indicated that he was this way before his leg was damaged, so his injury isn't really a reason, either).

A perfect example of a straightforward Lost Soul who doesn't look like a Professor on the same show would be Dr. Chase, the young Australian who works for House. He's the one with the troubled childhood who is now essentially alone in the world and who's so desperate for the security of the comfort zone that he's created for himself by working for House that he's willing to put up with whatever abuse House throws at him.

I'm not sure why I find these two types so fascinating, since I don't often write them. They're mostly good for debate. :-) I originally planned to write Ethan as a Professor, but he turned out to be a Swashbuckler underneath his more scholarly exterior. I guess Merlin could be a Professor, but he's functioning more like a Chief. Owen may have some traits that look like Lost Soul or Professor, but those aren't what make him tick. He likes books and knowledge, but they're not his primary driving force, and though his personal background is murky, he feels pretty secure and content about where he is. He's shy, but he still basically gets along with people, and he has close friends. He does have issues, but they're not really Lost Soul issues on an archetypical level. They're more personal. And really, once you get into actually developing a character, and especially after writing three books with a character, you tend to move away from the archetype so that you're writing that person. The archetype is merely a jumping off point and a way of populating a cast to make sure you've got a balance of different kinds of people.

I don't tend to write stories angsty enough to have a real Lost Soul, even though they're fun characters to work with and I love reading/watching them. In romances, those tend to be the guys who need to be healed through love, and I tend to want to refer those guys to a good therapist. Now, of course, I may have to take this as a personal challenge, to come up with a way to use a Lost Soul in a funny story where the "healed through love" cliche doesn't come up and where he doesn't annoy me with his moping.

In other news, I'm doing a booksigning Saturday afternoon, 4-6 p.m., at the new Borders Express at Collin Creek Mall in Plano, Texas. Candace Havens, author of Charmed and Dangerous, will be there, too (she's also written a book about Joss Whedon). So, even if you've already got my books, stop by and say hi and you can check out her books.

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