If you’ve been following my past few entries, you’ll remember how I contrasted the process I had writing a memoir/novel and my current work in progress, “Book One.” (I promise, I’m almost settled on the title and I will reveal it soon!) Today I want to talk about my feelings regarding those characters and how I portrayed them.
In the memoir, the main characters were people I knew, including myself, my parents, my siblings, my best friends, and my romantic interests. I wanted to portray them as accurately as possible so the story could remain true to what actually occurred that summer. It was a fun experiment trying to adequately describe them physically, mentally, and emotionally. I remember thinking, “How would my mom have responded if I said this?” or “What are the phrases my best friend tends to repeat?” I wanted to capture them as I saw them, but like I mentioned before, perspective is obviously skewed from person to person. We all carry biases whether or not we care to admit them. We remember old grudges and project our own insecurities on the people we love the most. That’s what makes life interesting.
On the flip side, in “Book One” I started fresh with characters completely created from my imagination. I didn’t base them on anyone I knew. Their attributes came slowly to me as I brainstormed, like a camera focusing. First, a hazy outline, a blur. Then, as time passed, the image grew sharper, more defined. And then, when I clearly saw the character, it was like seeing a familiar face. By this point, I felt like I knew them, but to this day, I still discover little things about them.
I started with names: Lili’uokalani Brooks and Kamehameha Lunalilo Kalakaua. The names were important to me, but these names would be too long and cumbersome for readers to read over and over, so I shortened them. Lili’uokalani would be Lily, and, as everyone in Hawaii already abbreviates Kamehameha to Kam, he would be known as Kam. (Agh, that reminds me of any kind of Russian novel. I got SO confused by the name variations).
Once I had the names down, I thought about their motivations, which were heavily determined by the plot. Kam had to be driven to do something drastic, like leave his home upon discovering the truth about his adoption and parents’ deaths. Therefore, it seemed only appropriate that he have a quick temper. But he’s also been sheltered, raised on a farm and homeschooled by his mom, so he’s a little clueless when it comes to pop culture. He doesn’t get all the references teenagers his age make. He’s not shy, though; in fact, he’s the opposite. He’s anxious to be out in the real world and to meet people, experience new things.
Lily, on the other hand, is stubborn and afraid of trying new things. She’s shy and wants to stay out of the spotlight. She’s tired of living in her dad’s shadow, and things are only made worse when she’s forced to take his college course. She revels in being smart, but she resents her father’s attempts to “indoctrinate” her in Hawaiian history and culture. She’s obedient and ambitious and lonely, with only her best friend, Glenn, to keep her company. She’s vulnerable about her relationship with her mom and afraid to open her heart to anyone, in fear of rejection.
This is just the start. These characters have become my friends. They surprise me constantly. And because they’re my creations, I feel more protective of them versus the real-life friends and family members I wrote about in my first memoir/novel. I would take an attack on Lily or Kam more personally than I would take an attack on my character as depicted in the memoir/novel, or any of the other real-life people I described. After all, they are who they are. I can only try to depict them. But Lily and Kam (or any of the characters in “Book One”) are who they are because I made them that way. I made (mostly) conscious decisions as to their character traits, what they like, who they hate, what motivates them. And while I’m excited to introduce them to the world, I’m also feeling a tad bit insecure and vulnerable. These are my babies. What if they don’t like them? What if they don’t like me?
I am fully aware that people won’t like them or me. That’s part of the deal. The problem is, in order to expose your craft to the world, you have to be ready for both the fans and the haters. ‘Cause the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate. Part of adulting is ripping open your scars for the world to see.