Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Do Book Characters Change Over Time?

I found myself spontaneously drawing and doodling while on an airplane from New York City to Austin, en route to attend the IBPA Publishing University.  I don’t need many things to amuse me.  I’m always reading, writing, researching, contemplating, analyzing or just dreaming awake.  But I suddenly got the urge to put down the book I was reading and found my left hand jerking itself into a familiar formation, as if a laser pre-programmed me to jot out a pattern. In this case, it was a character I’ve drawn thousands of times.  I realized, as I was rounding his eyes and shaping the contours of a body that only exists on paper, that I’ve been comforted in illustrating him for 35 years!

I started to wonder what it must be like to write about the same subject matter or in the same genre for decades.  What is it like for novelists to write about a character after many years?

For me, I accidentally created my guy, a person I initially labeled “Wacko Man” back around 1980.  I remember going through a phase in school of drawing often, usually copying political cartoons that I fund in daily newspapers.  This character that’s become my own, grew out of a figure that I would often see in the New York Daily News.  My version became a youthful, muscular one, someone brimming with energy and optimism.  I didn’t realize then that I would draw him for the rest of my life, but seeing him brings a smile to my heart.

He hasn’t really changed in these passing decades, though I have changed and the world around me certainly has. Authors who write series with one or more continuous characters probably let their creations evolve and reflect the times they live in, but I suspect the faux characters don’t change as much as the lives of their creators.

We want James Bond, more than 50 years after the first film, to continue doing what he does best.  He doesn’t age, always takes risks, and beds every beautiful woman.  His fans don’t want him to change.  In fact, the more they change, the more they need Agent 007 to be there and give them strength and satisfaction.

Still, I wonder why my drawing hasn’t changed at all with the passing of some 12,600 days.  Did life just stop in that time period?  Then again, look at cartoons like The Simpsons.  Bart will forever be in elementary school, 25 years after his debut.  Maybe that’s the beauty of creating characters, whether with words or drawings.  We stay forever in the world that we created them in, and in the process, we feel younger for it.

Creative artists, singers, writers, illustrators – come back to certain themes, sounds, and looks after many years have passed.  They re-create more than create, looking to continue to express themselves in a familiar way.  They are comforted by the continuity and given sanctuary in their replicated worlds.

Wacko Man will always be some kid of extension, reflection or model of me.  As I age he becomes what I want to be or what I was.  I wish he could walk off the page I draft him on and hear him talk to me.  What would he do with his newfound freedom and multi-dimensional world?  Would he choose to remain at my beck and call – or will he embrace his independence?  What would the characters that novelists create do if they could be alive and gain domain over their fate?

Be careful of the characters you develop for your books.  You may end up creating a persona that never grows up and moves away.  Actually, just embrace it.

Writers, please never violate these three rules!

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at brianfeinblum@gmail.com. He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2015

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