Friday, October 24, 2014

Unique and Universal: Part 3

Continuing with my short series on characterization, focusing on the topic of putting yourself into your work. Again, these are simply methods I have used to create characters. They may not work for you. Your job is not to mimic another author's methods. Your job is to find out what writing honestly means for you.

Anyway, here's a third method I have used which I will call the Situational Method.

This method is similar to the One Key Struggle method in that I take something from my own life and extrapolate from there. In this case, I don't take a sin or a struggle--I take an experience, usually a painful one. From there I imagine greater stakes, greater consequences . . . and usually throw in a couple of dragons.

Remember: situation shapes character. So by putting a character who is otherwise nothing like you into a situation similar to or reflective of yours, you are going to create a character who is reminiscent of you. You won't be able to help but relate to that character, even if that character's reactions are all polar opposite to what yours were in your similar situation. And if you are relating to your character, the likelihood is your reader will as well.

An example:

A while back, I found myself caught up in an extremely oppressive society for about two years. It was a church that had very strict views on women's roles, and they used various interpretations of the Bible to support those views. And I swallowed it, thinking this was my godly duty, despite my father's warning that this was not a church I wanted to get mixed up in. And everything went along smoothly for a little while . . .

Until suddenly I found myself in a situation where it was my word against a young man's word. And everyone sided with the young man, because he was a man. Including girls whom I believed were my friends. And those girls were so intrenched in this mindset of women's roles, they even began to spread stories about me amongst themselves, saying that I had invented this whole situation, that I was delusional, perhaps a little crazy. And the fact that I fell into a depression and became dangerously skinny from lack of eating did nothing to help. This was taken as a sign of my "lack of trust in God" and my "refusal to accept reality." Etc. etc.

It was awful. God saved me from that situation and those people. His grace is perfect, sufficient, and mighty to save.

And He also gave me remarkably good fodder for many, many, many stories to come . . . Looking back over my work, how many of my stories are reflections of this situation? Oh wow. So many of them!

We'll speak first and foremost of Starflower. The titular heroine of that story comes from an oppressive, patriarchal society in which the women literally have their voices stolen away. That was me. I wasn't poisoned to lose my physical voice, but I lost my voice in a very real sense when it came to defending myself. I knew what I was talking about when I wrote Starflower.

I was interviewed by a lovely woman a few years back who had served many years as a missionary to Afghanistan. She had worked specifically with oppressed women from the extremely patriarchal cultures over there. Having just read Starflower, she said to me that she didn't understand how I could have written something so real on the subject of patriarchal oppression having never lived in that culture.

The truth is, I don't know what those women suffer. But I do know the roots from which that suffering springs. And I can extrapolate from there. My own, small-scale experience is ultimately a universal. It's a reflection of something so many women across the world have experienced to various degrees of horror and pain.

That same situation of mine has influenced others of my stories. Look at Lady Leta in Dragonwitch. Look at Daylily in Shadow Hand. The situation of my heroine in Untitled Book 8 is even comparable. All of their stories are different, but the situation springs from the same source.

I start with a truth. I add imagination and extrapolate. What comes out is something unique and universal. What comes out is something honest.


Meredith said...

These posts are absolutely fascinating! I loved how you took such a horrendous event in your life and incorporated it into such a beautiful story. I remember upon first reading Starflower how truly engrossed I was by the vividness and brutality of the society in which she lived. Reading about the unbelievable ways women are still treated in many cultures is horrifying, and your story rang true. I myself am a member of a denomination that tends to view women in certain ways that, when I was younger, made me feel weak and unimportant to God. As I've grown older and studied more for myself, I've learned what a high regard God has for women. Just proves how we can take Scriptures out of context and use them to hurt others.

In my own writing, I like to focus on characters who have little control over their situations. Even if a character doesn't deal with a specific handicap, I like to explore how isolation and the way that character is viewed by others will make him/her react. From my own personal experience, I have definitely felt inadequate and inferior many times. This stems from my own spirit but also from the harsh reality that people with blindness and other disabilities, (if that word must be used), are sometimes overlooked or regarded as limited in some way. Thankfully, this is not God's view.

Thank you, thank you for this truly inspiring post. It means so much that you are willing to share such painful events from your past. God is phenomenally gracious, isn't He?

Tracey Dyck said...

I've been utterly fascinated with this series of posts! I will admit that I'm gleaning some advice as an aspiring novelist, but it's also intriguing to find out how you craft such wonderfully authentic characters. It's kind of an 'aha' moment, realizing THIS is why they're all so relatable. :)
I agree with Meredith; it's awesome how good has come out of a painful time in your life. What a great reminder that God works things together for our good!

Sarah Bailey said...

I've applied personal experience to my stories several times, and I must say that those are the things that have brought life to my characters and made my fantasy world much more realistic.

For example, I have a heroine whose life revolves around her faith in her gods, and it's tested several times in her adventures. Although my situations aren't as dramatic as hers, I too have had my faith in God tested. Like her and her patron deities, I have tasted of my Heavenly Father's goodness.

I'm sorry you had such a bad experience in that church. I'm a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and I know that in the eyes of God men and women are equal partakers of salvation and exaltation through the Savior Jesus Christ :) :)

Thanks for writing these articles!