Saturday, March 17, 2012

More of a Project Pony than a Plot Bunny

So I have gotten nothing accomplished recently. This is very frustrating for me, since I had planned to have taken over at least a portion of the world by now.

Since my world domination plans need to be readjusted, I thought I’d take a few minutes to write another blog post.

The reason I am so behind schedule is simple. If David Tennant had had the decency to be a lousy Doctor Who, then I wouldn’t have gotten sucked in to watching the last six seasons on Netflix. My children then got sucked in themselves because they’re nosy little things who always have to know what I’m watching; in the interest of family togetherness, I was practically forced to watch all six seasons all over again with them at their insistence. Then we started watching the classic series from my childhood. My youngest son has named Tom Baker the “Disco Doctor,” and my teenager is completely appalled at what passed for special effects back in the day.

We all loved Christopher Eccleston, of course, but it was David Tennant who really captured my boys’ hearts. Of course, he compounded this sin by being charming in interviews, witty on British television programs, and having the audacity to continue acting in other roles in a generally talented and engaging manner. So, David, if you’re out there – my schedule is shot to hell, and it is entirely your fault. Hang your head in shame.

One of the programs Mr. Tennant did as part of his evil campaign to turn my calendar into an absolute mess was called “Who Do You Think You Are?” His bit was “So You Think I’m Scottish?” This program interested me for several reasons, the first being that I dearly love a good story, and generally you get a good story if you dig into your family background as he was doing. It was also an excellent way to teach my boys a bit about their own heritage and give them a sense that they are here today because of the countless choices and challenges in their ancestors’ lives.

What grabbed my interest in particular when watching this program was the idea that what we consider “history” really happened to people and that events like the Clearances in Scotland, the Troubles in Northern Ireland, and countless other significant points in time that we study at school directly impacted who we were destined to become. For example, had my own ancestors not been religious dissenters, they would not have hopped on the Mayflower. Who would I have been then? Well, that's easy - I would never have existed, since the intermarriage between other nationalities that has gone on in my family tree since we set foot on Plymouth Rock would never have happened. In fact, I have so many different nationalities in my background that my children tend to refer to my side of the family as simply “European.” At any rate, when you look back at a specific person from your family tree and learn about who they were and what their life was like, it brings their humanity into sharp relief, and you begin to see them as a fully three-dimensional human being, which in turn gives you unexpected insight into the person you are.

So I was thinking about this in terms of my writing and the creation of fully-actualized characters. I do become impatient with books that give the protagonists one central idea that motivates and informs all of their decisions and actions throughout the story; to me, that seems to be over-simplifying how people work. If writers could “discover” their characters in much the same way we learn about our ancestors through research and legwork, I think that it would make for much more dramatic and believable characterizations. I know that all writers work differently, and so I can only speak for myself. Generally, I will get a plot idea and develop it in my head before creating characters to fill the various necessary roles within the story. But what would happen if I constructed the person before I constructed the plot? How would that impact the finished book?

One of my cousins has suggested that I should write the story of our family, particularly that of our grandparents. I have shied away from tackling this project in the past because I really could not figure out how to even begin, but now that rascally David Tennant has given me an idea. As my fellow novelists know, an idea is a very, very dangerous thing in an imaginative mind. I have some other pieces that are currently in progress and must be completed, but once those are taken care of, I am considering tackling a new project based on the idea of a story driven entirely by history rather than characters bending to the will of the plot. I think this might make for an interesting string of blog entries as well. Guess we’ll have to wait and see! If it results in anything worth publishing, I’ll have to dedicate it to Mr. Tennant.

That little troublemaker.