Writing to Character

There is no way on God’s Green Earth that my mother will ever, in a million years, crack open a copy of The Fishing Widow.  I know this because she told me so.  Now, mom’s 81 and has her tastes in fiction, and it’s not the horror part of it that she objects to.

“It’s the language,” she told me flatly, “I object to the language.”

It prompted an argument; an argument between her and my dad (also 81 and a WW II and Korean War veteran–oh, please don’t do the math, yes, he was underage).  The argument went along the lines of reality and how fiction should reflect that.  My mother objected to the fact that the fishermen in The Fishing Widow talk like, well, fishermen.  My dad admonished my mom, saying that I had it right–that’s how men talk when women aren’t around.  Then he got quiet.  Then he muttered something about wondering how his daughter knows how men talk when women aren’t around….  My mother, not to be dissuaded, continued:

“It’s foul.  I object to the language–”

“I object to the language!” I told her.

“You wrote it,” mom replied.

They told it!” I protested.

“It’s accurate, Winnie,” my dad cut in.

“Um… actually,” my husband wandered into the fray, “it’s not.  The fishermen’s language on the docks is much worse than that.  She really cleaned it up…”

So… because of the boys’ penchant for the “s” word (because I’m sure “unholy hell” isn’t the problem), my mother will never read the story.  It’s a little ironic that that’s what put her off.  I was sure it would have been Brett because I’d not really written a major character who is gay before this. My husband wondered why Brett’s gay.  I had to answer in that vein that makes writers sound psychotic: “Because he told me he was.  Just like when he sat down with Ethan in the bar, he said, bluntly, ‘I’m gay,’ and I just said, ‘fine,’ and went with it.”  Luckily, my husband and I have been married for over 16 years, so he doesn’t blink when his wife tells him she has a fishing boat crew living in her head, so I’m safe in that perceived psychosis…

BUT, it got me thinking about an author’s responsibility to write their characters accurately–no matter who it might offend.  It would’ve been easy to write the crew as clean-talking, all around good guys who don’t smoke, drink, have sex, or get involved in fist fights in bars, but then they would be less than believable.  One of the best feedback comments I received about the dynamic surrounding Brett was: “It’s so refreshing to read something where they’re tough and good at fistfights rather than neat and good at interior decorating.”  I wanted to make sure the crew was not cliche as well as not stereotypical.  My second favorite feedback comment has come from numerous beta readers: “They exist.  I don’t know where, but that crew exists somewhere….”

The boys:  Ethan Lindgren, Colin Claybaugh, Brett Riesgraf, Danny Rennick, Mike Passarella, Tommy Ansoategui, and Josh Padgett, are also quintessentially Alaskan.  Even though Ethan hails from the interior bush (Skwentna), Colin’s from Anchorage, Tommy’s from Wrangell, and Brett can be forgiven because he’s originally from Yachats, Oregon, Danny, Mike, and Josh are all from Port Saint Anne.  They’re atypical of some seiner crews because they know each other.  What I’ve noticed on the docks here in Craig is that seiner crews hail from all over.  There are boys finishing up the salmon seine season now who are looking to book airline tickets home–their Alaskan adventure drawing to a close.  For the crew of The Case in Point, Port Saint Anne, Alaska is home.  That connectedness to the town is important to the overall story–especially when things go from bad to worse and potential sacrifices loom large in the story.

So… write fearlessly.  Give your characters their voices.  If they’re mouthy or deranged, go with it.  It may seem like a no-brainer, as it were, but don’t let others’ opinions shape your characters.  They are who they are.  Let them be who they are.  And I’ll leave you with my mom’s comment when I told her that I was writing a story…

“But, you don’t know anything about running a commercial fishing boat in Alaska!”

“Yeah, mom,” I replied, “but I don’t have to.  It’s Colin’s boat.”

Yeah …. like that.


2 Replies to “Writing to Character”

  1. Don’t feel bad, I have vampires and werewolves living in my head. Along w/ some angels and fallen angels and nephlims… It’s getting kinda crowded and loud. 😉

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