Kate Elliott September 2nd, 2006
Many – most – maybe even all of us here at Deep Genre write character-driven fiction (I qualify that statement only because while I would like to presume to speak for the others, I canâ€™t quite).
For myself, I can say that every one of my novels has its genesis in a vivid, visual, scene of a Character in a Situation. The landscape and the plot grow out of that original image and emotional tone.
Sometimes characters emerge organically out of the evolving narrative, sometimes they walk in from my unconscious and hit me over the head demanding to be included, and sometimes I will â€œbuildâ€ a character who is needed due to the exigencies of the plot. In general, though, characters are who they are; in a perfect world, they are discrete individuals whose lives are intertwined with the landscape they â€œliveâ€ in.
Some among us now and then may invest a character with a bit of wish fulfillment. Iâ€™m not immune to this urge, and at times I indulge it cautiously and with (I hope) restraint. At the extreme, this is called writing a â€œMary Sueâ€ story, a subject that has been discussed earlier on Deep Genre here and here by Sherwood.
But thereâ€™s another kind of personalized character development that I want to call â€œThe Love Letter.â€
Maybe Iâ€™m the only one who does this. Maybe you could argue that it shouldnâ€™t be done, which Iâ€™m not going to do here because, well, I do it.
Now and again an otherwise naturally developed character will gather to her- or himself a characteristic or trait or hobby or skill or preference that I have a deep personal affection for. That is, through the character, I end up writing a little love letter.
It might as precise as roses or curry, or as general as a love for dressing up in spiffy clothes. It might be Polynesian canoes (Iâ€™m waiting to get to that one), or ballet, or crotchety old women who take no guff from anyone. It might be baseball, or origami, or those tenacious folk still running a family farm.
Itâ€™s not the main point of the character, or the whole of him or her, but it is a part of that character.
In Spirit Gate, the character of Zubaidit (be patient; she doesnâ€™t enter the tale until about halfway through the story) is my love letter to the women – young and old – at the gym where I work out.
Back in the day, when I was a young thing in high school, girls werenâ€™t to perspire, muscles were unfeminine, and god forbid you could outrun, outshoot, or outplay a boy in anything, much less be seen pumping iron. We had girlsâ€™ sports, only then beginning to gain some legitimacy a few years after the passage of Title IX. The one girl who really was a died-in-the-wool jock – that is, the main focus of her energy and interest was in playing sports because she was simply that good – was an anomalous creature; those of us who loved playing sports and being strong and active did other things as well, or disguised ourselves in other ways.
This period in the mid to late 70s was the beginning of the big change, a sea change. Throughout the 80s, more opportunities arose for girls to participate in sports at all levels. In 1993, during the final of the NCAA Womenâ€™s Division I basketball playoffs, I remember almost crying, I was so thrilled to watch Sheryl Swoopes and the other Texas Tech and Ohio State players, live on television.
Itâ€™s easy to forget, in 2006, that 1976 and 1993 arenâ€™t that long ago in the greater scheme of things.
So I go to the gym and I look at these women lifting weights for what Iâ€™m sure are a variety of reasons: health, fitness, vanity, competition. What does it matter? Theyâ€™re proud of their strength, of their muscles, of their physicality. Theyâ€™re confident, and in their myriad shapes and sizes and ages they are all beautiful.
Zubaidit is my love letter to them.
Do you have a love letter in your fiction?