News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Interesting question below...
> I read your story chapter. One question--I see how you are trying to explore> an interesting character, but do you actually like the characters you write> about? I get the impression that you don't. It feels like you look down on> them. Is that what you are going for?

Actually, I wasn't trying to explore the character. The concept never crossed my mind. Clearly I need to consider doing so. One of my problems is that I seldom find people interesting. Do you suppose this is a handicap? ...haha...

Actually, that first chapter was a technical exercise. Eventually I'll do something with it to patch it into the novel. Or, alternatively, I'll toss it. I just threw a hodge-podge of events together slam-bam to practice getting away from over-explaining all the time and to get some action going...

In Chapter 03 (part of which is up on my blog) I'm using what I learned in the process to run my character in just one chapter from his Szechuan home to a Chinese soccer stadium which breaks out in a riot featuring food thrown at police, a dispossessed farmer immolating himself, a spontaneous falungong demonstration, my character and friend taken to jail, where the person coming to bail them out (an ethnic Tamil Indian) is mistaken for an African and is beaten up by a police constable (the latter based on one of my students at howard who bragged about how he beat up every black brought into his custody - to teach them respect he said).

My greatest limitations at this time (in addition to what you've mentioned) are technical: reviving forgotten everyday Joe Blow vocabulary, bringing out scenes via colorful/memorable details, crafting scenes to move the story smoothly along, being dry w/o being corny, expressing feelings which are un-masculine and thus taboo or near taboo in conversation.

I never thought about whether I liked my characters or not. I've noticed that a certain strain of British folk employ complaining/commiserating as a starting point for friendship. I must have acquired this from my dad. So, I'm in the habit of criticizing more than praising. This produces a certain progress in understanding the world, but doesn't produce a balanced perspective.

It's probably this same feature that attracts me to Paul Theroux's work: many people seem to find his books negative, though I don't find them that way at all. I think his complaints are spot on and endearing. I read his better stuff and feel reassured.

So it's not that I look down on my characters (though you're right, inadvertently I do), it's that I'm habituated (and will have to change this) to subsuming everything to criticism. As a young teenager I realized that my vocabulary for bitching was ten-fold that of my lexicon for praise. I need to change this.

Clearly I don't see what many others see and vice versa. I need to immerse myself in a broad range of people again, something I haven't done for fifteen years (when I last lived in a hostel), to remember/learn how a range of other people see things.

For example, I was raised to consider pity and sympathy to be decadent. That might work in Scotland, but it's not going to go over well with the average North American house-wife who is probably my target audience...

This novel, however it turns out, is going to be my first hard-core attempt at really getting down the genre. No rush this time. After the first full draft, I'll pass it to a couple of folks for reviewing. At the same time, I'll take some time off to read more fiction to give me distance so that I can come back and rewrite as much as needs to be rewritten. I'll probably write short stories occasionally in the interim on other subjects/characters to broaden my perspectives, learn how to build (i.e. better appreciate) character, and bring in new vocab, metaphors, departure points, etc.

Paul Theroux takes six months to write a novel. This book of mine is destined for something like the same schedule in order to gradually finesse it into something containing memorable people (some attractive/sympathetic, some not) who do interesting things as part of a cohesive story. I want a novel that's both serious and funny, and which gives an accurate, if wholly invented, portrait of some of the events that one comes into contact as a foreigner living in a backwater city in contemporary China.

I've got my work cut out for me. The plot and it's twists are already worked out. But it's going to take lots of reading about China and lots of empathizing with my fellow man (that's going to be the hard part...haha...) to breathe life into it. As usual, the string of failures leading to the present notwithstanding, I'm totally confident I can do it. If I wasn't, I wouldn't dare take two years off at the age of 40 to chase a potential pipe-dream (a rather frightening word at my/our age)

Good luck and godspeed with your own writing. Put it up on your blog from time to time and alert me/us when you feel confident with it.


P.S. Sorry if this is long...

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