And, in honesty, there are plenty of situations in which I really don’t like it. Like when there’s no real need to talk, and we’re just trying to fill the silence. Or when it’s being used to avoid having a deeper conversation.
But sometimes, there’s a comfort in it. Because for all the claims that small talk is shallow and meaningless, it’s not always. Sometimes, talking with a stranger on the bus about the weather is just the kind of human connection that can turn your day around. It’s a glimpse into someone else’s life, someone else’s thoughts. It’s a window into another view of the world, and it’s so very interesting.
Or maybe that’s just my writer’s fascination with other people.
While talking with a friend recently about writing, I realized that my characters haven’t been taking their stories into their own hands and running off with them as much as they have in the past. On the one hand, this does make it easier to get them to do things. On the other, some of my favorite scenes have been completely unplanned and entirely outside of what I would have written had I stuck with what I thought needed to happen, and in angstier moments, I catch myself wondering if I’m structuring my writing into predictable scenes and stilted conflict.
It’s not so bad as that, fortunately.
In fact, the more I’m thinking about it, it’s not so much that my characters aren’t flying off to do their own at all, and more that the whole story will twist on itself and zip off somewhere I didn’t expect. Is it still possible that my characters aren’t as fully rounded as I want them to be, and/or that I just don’t know them well enough to have my subconscious take the reins? Oh, absolutely. And that’s something I’ll have to work on, I have no doubt. But fortunately, I don’t think it’s evidence that I’ve regressed in my writing ability. Despite what I try to tell myself on a bad writing day.
Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to do some text-based roleplaying* again, which has been amazing for a number of reasons. For one thing, it’s a return to my roots, as it’s absolutely the hobby that kept/started me writing throughout most of high school/college. For another, it’s phenomenal practice for writing character voice.
I think I’ve bemoaned the difficulty of that particular skill in the past, particularly when I’ve spent too long away from one story or another, and especially when the story in question is written in the first person. With this particular brand of roleplaying, it’s all done in third person, and I have four or five different characters that I write at various points, all of them with their own personalities, quirks, and feelings. Even in third person, they come across in wildly different ways, and getting into the habit of switching back and forth between them all rapidly is a skill in and of itself.
For example, there’s Shovar, the sensible and somewhat laid-back Admiral. To some extent, writing her is the easiest, because she’s more or less who I want to be like, and her values general line up with mine (she’s just way more patient). Then there’s Evva, the 14-year-old daughter of (essentially) a crime lord, who asks way too many questions, has no filter, and is, generally speaking, Trouble. Writing her is just fun. Then there’s her mom and the aforementioned crime lord, Thrinn, who also happens to be one of my oldest characters, as she was the one I was writing most often during high school. She’s gotten even sneakier in her old age.
If nothing else, the character practice has been more helpful than I’d realized or expected. Progress on Tanner and Miranda, while still slow, has been moving faster than before, and I’m more or less happy with what’s appearing on the page. The narrative sounds like Miranda, at least, and I’m happy to call that a win.
* On a little site called The Vulpine Imperium. Started out life as (more or less) a sort of Redwall fansite. Has taken on a life of its own (think PotC meets anachronistic Victorian-esque society, only it’s all anthropomorphic animals) and only recently come back from the dead, to my great surprise and joy.
So, recently I’ve come to realize that I’m actually pretty bad at writing physical descriptions of my characters. By which I mean, mostly, that I forget to do it. Because a lot of times I have at least some vague idea in my head of what my characters look like. Probably not as solid an idea as I ought to, but then, that feeds into the whole “bad at writing physical descriptions” thing.
On the one hand, I don’t think this is the end of the world, because even if I never say what color hair someone has, as long as I can reliably tell (or rather, show) you how they would react in a given situation, then I’ve at least got things moving in the right direction. For example, it’s far more important to know that Miranda’s first instinct is to punch a problem in the face (as opposed to, say, attempting diplomacy) than it is to know that she has brown hair. Which she does, by the way!
On the other hand, though, neglecting someone’s physical description while writing fiction can make it harder to fully and consistently flesh out a character. A character whose height tops out around five feet will quite literally view the world differently than one who is six-foot-six. They also might find it easier to hide in crowds. Or more difficult to convince someone that they’re a threat. Given that, it’s hard to argue that a character’s physical appearance is actually unimportant at all.
Which, if I follow my own logic, probably means that I should put a little time into actually writing down what Tanner and Miranda (and all the rest of my cast) actually look like. Because at the moment, I think the only thing I have written down in any of the stories is Miranda’s height.