Friday, March 2, 2012

Occupation versus Purpose

Any author can tell you that part of the real work is character development. I would even say it's the majority of the hard work. I find it very difficult to even think abut writing any story before my main character, at the very least, is fully developed.

Trust me, I've already tried. It really doesn't work. It's like trying to buy a house without knowing what city you want to live in. Damn near impossible.

With my last thriller, I got lucky. Very lucky. That book will probably be a once in a lifetime experience. Many things came naturally to me, including both the occupation and the purpose of the main character, at the same time. I just... knew.

In some ways, I was a bit spoiled by that good luck.

With my current thriller, I find I have to pace myself more and break things down. Although I've already learned this lesson, it is interesting to me how I broke this lesson down for my current project.

Occupation and Purpose are two different things. Often related, but still different.

Give me a moment to explain.

The Purpose of a character, especially main characters, has to do with the overall theme of a story. Hamlet is a depressing fool, but he lives in the world of a Shakespearean tragedy, so that's his purpose. His occupation is prince of Denmark.

It's much easier to come up with a Purpose, I find, than an Occupation. Okay, fine, main character is an anti-hero or a hero or some guy out for revenge, but... what does he do?

Well, the answer is up to me. That's my job as the author.

An Occupation could be anything, just like everyday life. Banker, waitress, telemarketer, zoo keeper, Star Wars Storm Trooper without a name so you know this character is going to die, etc. The Occupation isn't as important as the Purpose, it just has to make sense within the context of the story. Hamlet couldn't be a merchant in Venice, that wouldn't make sense.

So, I was stalled with my current project. It took more effort to develop and get to know my main character than with my last thriller. I despaired for a little while that maybe I hadn't learned my lessons, maybe it's never going to get easier for me, and maybe, oh my god, I suck as a writer and life has no meaning!

Yeah, I have my Hamlet moments, too. Then I get over it.

Yesterday I had a burst of inspiration. The Occupation for my main character finally came to me! I knew his purpose, his name, back story, everything else but his elusive occupation.

Now that he's finally developed enough, and that did take a good two months of thinking about him, on and off, the writing is flowing beautifully again. I'm getting back that same feeling I had with my last book. That feeling of, I can just sit down and write whenever I want, like flexing a muscle. It's a wonderful feeling.

The irony of all of this is, his occupation is a hustler. Go figure.

And now... I'm working on page 20...

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