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Rogue Mutt Classics: Separated At Birth

August 29, 2011

As a side note, when I was making Mii characters for the Wii I focused mostly on the Scarlet Knight stories because I realized that they were perhaps the most diverse group and that really going through my male lead characters they all looked the same.  So I only made two of them:  Gary from Virgin Territory to represent the young ones and then Frank Hemsky of The Best Light because he’s older.  Frank is perhaps my favorite male lead character I’ve ever written.  If you want to get into all that sappy nonsense I think it’s because I read up on nature photographing so I felt like I really knew him better than some other characters.  And I think Frank is about to have a resurgence.  I almost have an idea for a new, improved (or unimproved) version of The Best Light worked out.

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In John Irving’s A Widow for One Year, the main character Ruth is a bestselling author.  It’s noted in the book that in all of her books there’s always one character based on her and another based on her best friend.

Working on my latest opus (note sarcasm) Chet Finley vs. The Machines of Fate, it occurred to me that the main characters are pretty much all based on characters I’ve written before.  That bothers me because as an artiste, I should be expanding my boundaries and horizons and whatnot, pushing the envelope and not just doing the same thing over and over again.  But then again since nothing I have is really published, you could also think of it as I’m just trying to perfect my formula.

The main character, the eponymous Chet Finley, is in the same mold as most of my “heroes” for some time.  I refer to them as “good-natured dumbasses.”  They’re usually kind of shy, kind of doormats, and kind of not the brightest people around.  (Except for this one, who is the brightest person around–supposedly, though her track record kind of belies that.)  Frost Devereaux in Where You Belong is another example of this in that he’s quiet, lets other people tell him what to do, and wasn’t a straight-A student.  So is this guy.  And this guy.  And this guy–though he has a good reason!  And him, though he doesn’t have as good of a reason.  Although again you could see this all as evolving the formula.

Really in 2005 was when I sort of bucked that trend a bit.  In The Best Light, nature photographer Frank Hemsky is jaded and bitter most of the time.  Then in The Changing Seasons (2005) I turned that evolving formula on its head by making the character a selfish cad, though he sort of redeems himself at the end.  So I’m not exactly a one trick pony.  But still, there are as you can see plenty of examples of that.

Also, I’ve noted all of my villains seem to be made in the same smarmy, Goldfinger-type mode.  This is probably because my favorite villain is Grand Admiral Thrawn in Timothy Zahn’s Star Wars books.  This is because he wasn’t a bumbling dumbass.  He was smart and won more than he lost.  He would have won a lot more if not for the phenomenal luck of our heroes.  So generally I try to make my villains more in that mode in that they aren’t stupid, cackling dopes; they’re more likely to be stroking a cat on their laps.  The best example of this is the evil goddess Isis in the Scarlet Knight stories, especially this one and this one.  Though this one also features the evil Russian billionaire Sergei Bykov who kidnaps our hero’s child and the renegade witch Sophie Joubert.  They’re all somewhat the same, except as a goddess (and an evil one) Isis likes to fuck with people more.

Anyway, if you read enough of an author’s books maybe you notice a pattern like that.  Since I’ve read all of the aforementioned John Irving’s novels, I’ve noticed similarities in some characters.  In a few of them there’s a high-strung girl who bullies the smaller, weaker male lead character.  See, The Hotel New Hampshire, The Cider House Rules, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Until I Find You just to name a few off the top of my head.  Of course in Philip Roth’s books there’s always a Philip Roth character, sometimes the author himself or sometimes using a thinly-veiled surrogate like Nathan Zuckerman.  I’m sure you Phantom Readers can think of your own examples.

I think the source of this is that as they say, we “write what we know” and there’s nothing you know better than yourself.  Or at least your self-image of yourself.  I mean I probably think of myself as a good-natured dumbass, though I think other people are more likely to call me an antisocial jerk or just a hideous creep.  For instance, just read my entries.  Don’t I sound like a good-natured dumbass?  Kind of a slightly more articulate and less disingenuous Sarah Palin with my folksy wisdom and charm?  I can also do bitter and ironic, like a homeless man’s Jon Stewart.  I would seriously struggle though to try and sound learned like one of those snobby guys you always see at cocktail parties in the movies, especially 19th Century parties where the “gentlemen” are sitting around the fire with brandy and cigars.  I’d also struggle to do  Glenn Beck-type Tea Party rants because I actually have a brain.  (Seriously, I graduated magna cum laude!  From a Division II school, but it still counts!)

Anyway, the point is that we all have a “voice” based on who we are and how we see the world and thus that’s probably why if you write enough stories, a lot of your characters will seem very similar.  Though it probably does help to try and shake things up a little bit.  Like in the “Meet Cute” story I posted a few posts ago, the main character Tom is generally a good-natured dumbass, but he’s also kind of a cad, though that was kind of unintentional on my part.  Still, it’s a slight bit of change in the formula, which helps to keep things fresh.

Really to think of it another way, I don’t mind if a band changes their sound a little from album to album, but I really hate it if they change too much.  I don’t want to hear Counting Crows or Death Cab for Cutie trying to rock out, because they’re not going to be that good at it.  And I don’t want Coldplay trying to be all “arty” like they think they’re the Beatles or something.  You’re not the Beatles!  That doesn’t mean you have to just keep doing the same thing over and over again, but don’t stray too far from your strengths.

And in case you haven’t noticed, rambling semi-coherently is another of my strengths.

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7 Comments
  1. What exactly is an artiste with an “e” that an artist fails to be? I may have to think on this. If you were anything like Sarah Palin, I wouldn’t follow your blog. Grand Admiral Thrawn was also one of my favorite villains. Those books were a real surprise when they came out twenty years ago. I was really hungering for Star Wars as there wasn’t much in the way of books at the time aside from Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster. Then those Zahn books got published and kinda started the whole “Star Wars books” thing that has never stopped since. I like how he studied art and determined how to beat a species based off of their sculptures and stuff.

    I used to read the Star Wars extended universe every time a new one got published, but some were just terrible and uninteresting and the stuff that they started to do in the extended universe just got bigger and bigger from suns blowing up to you name it. It just seemed like every author tried to outdo the previous one in power and mind-blowing special effects. Take for example the super star destroyers. Well then they came out with Eclipse class and blah blah blah until they had ships that destroyed huge planets and you name it. I was like…huh? That’s what the Death Star was for and it just kinda went off the deep end.

    Oh and on the superman comment…he has one miracle exemption. The yellow sun explains all of his superpowers. So as long as they hold true to that, he can have anything. They just explain it as “earth has a yellow sun” and we all snap our fingers and say, “Got it…I forgot. Yellow sun equals powers.”

    • Yeah I stopped reading the Star Wars books once Chewie got crushed by a moon. And by now I think they’ve got it to where Luke and Leia are like 70 or something and have great-great-grandJedi. When it came to those books though Zahn was always the best in my mind. The only thing I think he lacked was the more opera-y parts of the space opera, the whole “Luke I am your father” kind of stuff. The characters he made up like Thrawn, Mara Jade, and Talon Karrde were just as good and fit in perfectly with the existing characters.

      It was funny too when five or six years after the first three came out he did two more books. By then there had already been a bunch more Star Wars novels, some of which were just complete crap. I think he tried to correct some of the liberties other authors had taken, like in the beginning Luke realizes that he’s been overusing the Force, which at least to me was a response to other authors having Luke become like Superman with the Force stuff. And then of course he hooked Luke and Mara up, after other authors had broke them up.

      Actually that’d be a question I’d love to ask but I’m sure he wouldn’t give a straight answer on: How much did all those other books piss you off when they changed or rewrote your continuity? Not to mention Lucas rewrote the whole cloning process; Zahn’s was actually a lot better, more grounded in reality than in “Attack of the Clones.”

  2. I was thinking of reading the Thrawn Trilogy of books myself. The amount of praise they still get is embarrassing to me. I’ve only read one or two Star Wars books, but Zahn’s are famous. As for characters, I’ve experimented with having viewpoint characters that are way different from me. But I generally make them out to be assholes – since they’re not like me.

  3. It is so interesting what comes out through writing. I feel like I’ve discovered more about myself through my heros and my villains. It’s hilarious though, half of my family is convinced that my most horrid villain was modeled after my sister–I didn’t do anything of the sort (seriously)! LOL! I just wrote about that character when my neighbors kept pawning their kids off on me :0)

  4. It is interesting how each person has their own style of communicating. “Voice” comes through all on it’s own…somehow some are more stilted and others are more rambling, but that’s what makes us unique.

  5. Again, Michael and Rogue — you’ve GOT to do a joint blog somewhere.

    At first when I read this, I thought “I don’t write the same characters over and over” but then I wondered whether Rachel, in “Lesbian Zombies Are Taking Over The World!” isn’t really a lot like Saoirse was in “the After”, only a little more lesbian-zombieish (both were dead, after all.)

    I did notice that about Irving, though — he’s got a lot of the same archetypes in his books, over and over. I always wondered if that was deliberate, or if he only knows how to write a few characters.

    I think the main thing is that it’s very difficult to create a main character who DOESN’T think like you — it can be done, I’m sure, but it’s a lot harder. So a main character in any book probably has a lot in common with the author because otherwise it’s like creating a whole other personality, which is EASY to do for minor characters, as they only have to have that personality part of the time but your main character has to have that all the time.

    Does that make sense? Probably not.

    About Star Wars: I think you’re all forgetting the major character growth exhibited by Han Solo in such classics as “Han Solo’s Revenge.” I for one will never forget when Han took pity on a group of rebels on a planet and told them to be careful with their ammo because stormtroopers would have an unlimited supply but they would not. That was an extremely touching scene and explained why later he stuck around to shoot away Vader at the Death Star.

    (I’m being only 1/2 sarcastic here.)

    Plus, my new favorite saying ever is “once Chewie got crushed by a moon.”

    • I’m always disappointed I never read the Han Solo books. I think my dad used to own them, though I’m not sure where they would be anymore. And then of course there were some Lando ones too. Didn’t get to those either. My brother was happy about the Rogue Squadron ones though because for some reason Wedge Antilles (the X-wing other than Luke who doesn’t get blown up in the first Death Star run) was his favorite character. I just wonder if anyone’s made an “Adventures of Dak” (the guy in Luke’s snowspeeder who got shot by a walker and then crushed because Luke Skywalker sucks at flying. Really that should be the next set of prequels so we can find out what led Dak to join the Rebellion and feel so good that he could take on the whole Empire by himself.

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