Monday, February 4, 2013

On Writing — Creating Characters, A Grand Scheme Gone Wrong

I thought I had a brilliant idea.  And maybe it was, but I couldn’t make it work.  Skeptics though you may be, bear with me for a few sentences.  The Asian Zodiac is thousands of years old. And is far more complex and subtle than finding your sign on the paper placemat at your local Chinese restaurant. Not quite as old is the Western Zodiac, which, like its predecessor has been debunked by almost all contemporary scientists.  Even so, much critical thought has been given to the subject over the centuries and the subject is far more complex than most might imagine.  And while it may be appropriate to dismiss it, if we take it literarily rather than literally, it has value.

That is the fascination for me. Both systems, valid or not, have created incredibly sharp and detailed descriptions of various character types.  Though each sign of each system has sub characteristics based on more specific time and place of birth that would further refine them, just taking the 12 Asian principal signs and their descriptions and adding to them the 12 western signs (an Aries monkey, for example), we have 144 clearly delineated personality profiles from which to draw. It is an interesting resource.  It doesn’t matter if they are true in this case.  We are writing fiction.

Happy Year of The Water Snake
So even though I’d only be skimming the surface, I set out to write 12 mystery novellas that, when concluded, would use all the primary personalities.  With the help of charts and Suzanne White’s The New Astrology I began.  There would be three quartets before the project was completed.  I wrote the first three novellas, nearly completing the first to be called The Yellow Road To The Sun QuartetBlack Tortoise, Vermilion Bird and Blue Dragon. Unfortunately, it didn’t go well. The first two were horrible.  Only Blue Dragon had any promise.  I dumped the whole idea, but kept the one story that nearly worked. This confirmed what I suspected.  I couldn’t write characters according to a blueprint, even one of my own making. For me, even vague outlines are stifling.  But it remains an interesting challenge for some writer whose mind is more structured and whose nature is more patient.

However, I believe there are worthwhile remains. If anyone is interested, the novella, Blue Dragon, rewritten and renamed The Deadly Secrets of Ted Zheng is available free here.

Meanwhile, however you feel about astrology, Chinese New Year begins this month on the 10th.  Enjoy “The Year of the Snake.”


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