Writing a Recalcitrant Character

(This essay was posted 7 days early on my Patreon. Thank you to all my patrons!)

I wrote this on a writers forum, about my current progress in writing my Tor.com novella, “Woman in the Tower Window.” It’s an interesting process, but very frustrating at times! I thought you might like a peek behind the scenes:

Writing a story from the POV of a character who actively wants to conceal all of her emotional truths and reactions, so it’s all got to be in subtext. I hope the story will be good, but she’s driving me nuts!

She has a vested interest in establishing herself as silly, slow, and unaccomplished, while also presenting the things around her as having more import than they do. She sees herself as a sort of unremarkable, unnecessary character in the corner of a grand painting. She wants to talk about the painting, but she doesn’t want you to look at her, so she puts up a number of shifting obfuscatory pretenses to try to make herself blurry and unworthy of attention. I think she thinks that if you turn any attention on her, and see past the various pretenses to her emotional truths, you will see her as not just useless, but actively contemptible. She’s also trying to get in front of that feeling, I think; she thinks any interlocutor will discover she’s unworthy eventually, so she preemptively identifies and apologizes for it.

It can make every sentence a fight, though, as I try to figure out how to push forward, while elements of her character are constantly pushing back. I imagine this would be her psychological process of writing as well, so it’s not inappropriate for the story, but arrrrrgh.

Or, like, she would happily muse about the aesthetics of, e.g., the bird cage of her finches for another six paragraphs because that’s not emotionally difficult for her, but she’d like to cover the whole traumatic sections with minimizing elisions emphasizing her own flaws and self-blame–“the unpleasantness which, in my simpleness, I was unable to forestall” sort of thing.

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