I have been obsessed with the Kings of Leon lately. To the point that it's become disturbing. I'm not, like, mapping out stalker routes or anything, but they are on in my car, playing on my iPod, on my Spotify. I've looked up their music videos and DVRd festivals they performed on; it's obscene. This is what happens with me, though. I find a topic of interest, some random bit of life that happens to fascinate or intrigue me and I DE-VOUR it. I go on this Indiana Jones-style quest for any information I can get. This happened when I discovered Weezer. This happened with the Romanovs, with the Romani (Gypsies to you laymen folk.) This is why my husband says I'm the dumbest smart person he knows. Don't get so aghast, I suppose it's meant to be a compliment - the whole intelligence versus smarts argument, or whatever. But this need to know everything about one thing is why I am filled with a library's worth of knowledge on certain topics, but couldn't tell you how to turn the thermostat to cool. Seriously. It's happened. "Why's it getting hotter in here?" I cried, staring at the switchy-thing set to heat.
So my Kings of Leon obsession really took off after walking in on Sharif watching their documentary "Talahina Sky." I only caught the tail-end of it and was confused as hell, but something about it drew me in. I already liked their music. I already had almost all of their albums (thanks mostly to the dad-in-law dumping his musical library on my computer.) So it wasn't like I was a total bandwagon jumper (ha! puns!) Anyway, I went back and watched the whole thing from the beginning. Or tried to. Something stopped me halfway. So it wasn't until the third viewing that I finally saw it all the way through, but seriously, it helped because it was not done in chronological order and those four boys all looked alike, it was confusing enough and required three tries to get it straight. But after that, I felt a connection to the band. Being born in Oklahoma and growing up in the South sort of sets you a part from many people and automatically builds a connection with others from the South as well. Especially if you're from Oklahoma. There's just a feel to living that is different. And these boys, with the way they were raised and the way they changed, fascinated me. Especially the middle one. His drinking, drugging and rambling was the highlight of the documentary. But like all obsessions, eventually you OD and I think I've hit that point.
So I've been thinking a lot lately about character creation. What is it about some characters that make them just stick with you? And how does the writer, their creator, make them that way? It plagues me because I think it's a very important part of writing. Yes, you can come up with a story that makes up for a lack of character development, but it's usually the characters that readers fall in love with, not the plot. You don't see teen girls wearing "Team Redemption" shirts or walking around talking about how much they LOVED that plot line! So how does it happen? One of Aubrey's favorite literary characters is Touchstone from Garth Nix's "Sabriel." She said she loves him because he's so flawed. In "Bird by Bird," Anne Lamott discusses the same thing, if not a little further, in her chapter on characters. She says you should hurt your characters; put them through some shit. Because it's the trials and tribulations and their human way of dealing with them that creates that connection to the reader. One of my favorite literary characters is Howl from "Howl's Moving Castle." He is so vain and selfish and cowardly and flashy. And wonderfully funny and fun to watch. (Yes, watch, because I see it all in my mind.) And in the moments that he is not vain, but brave and sacrificial, he becomes the character you love because you know what he had to overcome to make those sacrifices and courageous choices.
A lot of my characters are based in some way on people in my life. Those closer to me tend to be secondary or minor characters. Some influence, in superficial ways, major characters. It helps me flesh them out and make them real to base them on actual people. I think the reader can tell the difference. I bet Aubrey could easily tell you who is based on a real person and who isn't, strictly by which character she is more attached to. The ones based on real people tend to connect more.
So that brings me back to Kings of Leon (See what I did there? That's called coming full circle. That's the mark of a good writer.) The middle one, Caleb, is full of flaws and yet has all of these good characteristics that makes him an interesting character and I think in my mind he's bullying his way into a story. I just don't know which one yet. I have one in mind, but I'm not sure. Maybe I'll create something up just for him. We'll see.
Go listen to their song Trani and tell me you don't see a character waiting to go through some torture and hell and redemption!