Character notes

I realize that this sounds incredibly shitty to say, but there are some aspects of caring for a newborn that are frankly dull. Walk-and-pat, bounce-and-pat, feed, feed, feed, change, repeat. Now that Otto is almost two months old, he’s gotten much more interactive and playful, which goes a long way to making the experience more satisfying and rewarding, but perhaps most importantly, I have adjusted my expectations and made peace with the pattern of our days.

Still. I don’t know where I would be without the steady stream of NPR programming to give me things to think about and talk about. To wit: a couple of recent interviews – one with Kenny Rogers, go figure – that brought up some interesting points regarding character.

The Kenny Rogers interview was on the Diane Rehm Show (that woman is a badass moderator…she doesn’t take crap, something Jim Lehrer struggled with during the debate last night). Rogers was hawking his new memoir, in which I have no interest, but one thing that came up was different aspects of his life that are less than wholesome. His coauthor said to him at one point that if you make the reader like the child, s/he will like the man, however flawed.

The second point, which dovetails nicely with this concept, came courtesy of a Fresh Air interview with Mindy Kaling. She received advice once along the lines that if a character is highly competent at his/her job, that the reader (or really, in her case, audience) will not lose sympathy with the character.

I like these ideas in theory, but am not sure that they work in practice, at least for me, except perhaps by accident. If there’s one thing I emerged from the MFA program with, it’s faith in the intuitive process of writing. These techniques feel very calculated to me. There’s room for calculation in revision, but at what cost? I’d argue that some of the truth of the story could leach away.

Besides, an unlikeable character is not inherently a problem for me. Antiheroes are frequently the best kind of all (since the above references a book and a TV show, I’ll throw out a film example: Billy Bob Thornton’s character in Bad Santa—though why, why?? do we need a sequel?). Even antiheroes typically redeem themselves in some way or another.

I will always forgive an asshole who’s funny.


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