Before I Forget

As many of you probably know already, I was fairly close to attempting suicide again earlier this month, so I checked myself into the hospital in Lincoln. I had made an agreement with my parents that if anything like that happened, I would return to Leavenworth, so I did. I spent another couple of weeks in a psychiatric hospital in Kansas City, and during that stay I began electroconvulsive therapy. I am continuing ECT on an outpatient basis for the next couple of weeks, and I hope to see continued improvement.

ECT is one of the strangest experiences I have ever undergone. For those not in the know, ECT is when a psychiatrist shocks your brain with electricitity until you have a seizure (under anasthesia, of course). It seriously fucks with your memory and confuses the hell out of you. Most of the memory loss is of recent events, and it takes the form of delayed recall. Also, old memories pop back up in your head at random. This has no doubt made me a whole lot of fun to be around, giving my family the opportunity to answer some very strange questions like “what did I do all day yesterday?”

Anyway, it really does seem to have improved my mood, and I am trying to be more patient about achieving my goals. I think I’m going to go back to school in the spring semester, at the local community college. After that, I’m not sure where I want to go, but I’m thinking I’ll finish a degree in math and look at getting one in psychology, a subject that appealed to me long ago but for some reason I abandoned in high school. I need to stop sitting around doing nothing and start actually making an effort with life.

I have a lot more to say about recent events, but my addled brain can’t organize my thoughts properly, so I’ll wait and post again later.

NaNoWriMo: Characters

Although I have never actually written a full-length novel, I am somewhat used to writing fiction and much more experienced with reading it. As a former editor and nitpicker extraordinaire, I have picked up a few things along the way about writing. As a way of sharing some of that and also writing something easier than my actual novel as I force myself to continue, I will be writing a few posts about what I have learned.

Characters are possibly the most important element of a fictional work. Many successful pieces of fiction have endured by having memorable characters that illicit a reaction from the reader, despite (in some cases) other flaws or problems with the work. People respond to characters, and if they make a true connection, they will remember more about the character than any other part of the work. For example, the word “quixotic” is still in the public lexicon, despite the fact that few people have read Don Quixote. The character has the power to endure because people can identify with him.

Defining a character is not easy. A work may call for several different kinds of characters, many of whom you will not like, agree with, or represent. It is important to remember that you are NOT your character, even if you are. One of the best tools I know of for defining characters is quite simple: ask yourself questions about them. Better yet, ask the character in your head and figure out how he or she would respond.

When you think about it, a situation is really a question of how a character responds. The different reactions are what make characters unique and interesting. Furthermore, the characters themselves may react in different ways depending on the circumstances.

In any case, start simple. Here are some questions that might help you define a character:

Questions to ask yourself:
What is the character’s name?
What does the character look like?
Why is this character necessary?
Would I like this character?
Does this character remind me of anyone I know?

Questions to ask your character:
What are you afraid of?
What is your favorite food?
What kind of books do you read?
Do you prefer the heat or the cold?
What do you dream about?
What is your favorite word or phrase?
What is your favorite curse word?
What makes you uncomfortable?
How do you feel about your hometown/family?
Where would you like to be right now?
What is the most important quality for an individual?

Keep in mind that not every question applies to every character. However, it may help to ask an irrelevant question, just to see how your character would respond. Furthermore, it is often more likely to know why a character has traits than that the character has them. Although it is not necessary for your characters to be highly original, they must not be simple stereotypes. Take the time to make them your own.

You will likely know more about the character than you will need to present, particularly for minor characters, so don’t feel the need to include all the information about someone.

Lastly, although there is no substitute for good characters, there is no need to make the characters the central aspect of a work, especially if it’s not your talent.

Tomorrow: Plot and Setting, bitches.