Last night, I was trying to complete the profile of a character I’m currently working on. She’s to star in a short story I have in mind (apparently plot bunnies are hyperactive when I’m bored, and they won’t stop reproducing as long as the light bulb of my eureka moment is still shining overhead).
While laying out her literary bones, a memory popped in my head. It was during our overnight stay at Sir Eros Atalia’s place for Imaginaccion XIII, and I was inspecting Sir’s shelf that was tacked in the corner of our working space. A DSLR camera precariously placed on the ledge of the second-to-last layer, dust-coated CPMA plaques and trophies, a framed photo of a young woman (“That’s his fiancée,” Marc told me), and literary folios from various universities wedged between dog-eared copies of Asian novels. It’s only a small shelf—about four feet tall—but it already granted us a peep at the life of its owner. The choice of books alone can give away an about-me chunk from the owner, more so a rack with a variety of things.
However, people are icebergs: there are so much of us underneath. That goes for fictional characters too because in a way they are also human, except that they are living on the pages and in our imagination. The things we choose, like, and want…they’re only a miniscule part of what we really are.
There was a book on the floor of our working space’s bathroom (yet another thing that tells us something about Sir Eros). I sneaked to the loo in the wee small hours of our second day, when everyone else was taking a power nap, and I picked up the book: Trip to Quiapo, a scriptwriting manual by Ricky Lee. I didn’t have the time to read it in one sitting so I just scanned it. I remembered reading a Dan Brown-ish snippet (something about a local movie with Jesus and Magdalene hooking up) and tips to create and know a fictional character.
Maybe the book was for the screen but the part I read applies to literature too. The book said that in order to develop a good character, you must know him inside out. You should see him naked—literally and metaphorically. Know all the blemishes and flaws, his most embarrassing memory, his worst fear. Know what makes him feel good, and his dreams and aspirations. Feel him under your hands, and in the end…give him the respect he deserves. Contradictory, right? You ripped his clothes—practically for your own benefit—and you respect him? That’s my initial reaction, but I realize it’s possible even without using the mechanical eyes of a scientist studying a specimen. You must learn to “love” the character.
Like how you love a real person, eh? Accept him and know him. It’s quite easier when it comes to fictional characters actually, because your pen and your mind control him. It’s complicated with people irl. No one controls them but themselves. Looking at their bookshelves or music collection—even if it does give you a peek at their lives, I reiterate—will only be the peak of the iceberg.
Sometimes these peaks can even ram into you to steer you into a false direction, or even sink the “un-sinkable” ship of your keen observation and perception. How complicated, really...