Thursday, December 20, 2007

Not a leper

This is a (relatively) brief post, just to let anyone know who might be looking for signs of life from me that I'm still working on my project. The GRE is taking up most of my time right now. Math is killing me. I'm too old (41) and it's been too long since I've done any of this! I have forgotten EVERYTHING, and the Princeton Review is explaining things by way of "new math". So I'm truly learning everything new. Eek!!

I've struggled with the identity of my main character for years. Ever since coming up with the idea that there is a disease, or what appears like a disease, infecting certain people in the "fantasy world", I've felt that the only real way to resolve that problem was to bring a sick person from our world into that world (for reasons that are too involved to be mentioned in a brief post).

Knowing what or who my main character had to be didn't make it any easier to establish his identity, because one of my favorite authors, someone I've followed for twenty-seven years, wrote a fantasy novel where he brought a leper from our world into a fantasy world. This author's world wasn't sick when he brought the leper over, but the idea of leprosy and health were initial starting points for this author's themes.

How could I possibly use a sick person from our world, when one of my favorite writers, in one of my favorite fantasy series, has already done so?

Well, because I have to. The story demands it. For years I've tried to come up with a different solution, but there isn't one.

So I posted my quandary to a discussion forum dedicated to this authors work, and asked a group of writers what they thought I should do.

Their answers were unanimous: if my story needs a sick person from our world, then that's what the story needs, and who cares if a few (or more than a few) readers think it's similar to this other work?

While posting, I realized that I don't need a sick man - I need a dying man. I'd always known this as well, but never made the distinction. And he HAS to have AIDS. Again, for reasons that are too lengthy to get into. I asked this same group of writers/fans what they thought of a gay main character in fantasy series who had AIDS, and was surprised when every single one of them, even one who said that homosexuality repulsed him, again voiced nothing but encouragement, essentially believing that attitudes toward homosexuality have changed enough where it's not as big of a deal now as it would have been twenty years ago.

Why does the character need to be gay? Well, he doesn't. The story only demands that he be from our world and that he have AIDS. Because of the population of AIDS patients, and my own sexuality (which I've never hidden, and if I were so insanely fortunate/lucky to publish, would likely be known), if I were to write a huge story like I'm planning to, and wrote the main character as being anything but gay, I would essentially saying that I was afraid of writing the character in the way that seemed best and most comfortable to me.

So the story demands that he have AIDS, and my own sexuality and what I perceive as my responsibility to the gay community and to myself as a gay man, demands that he be gay.

My main character is from our world, has AIDS, is dying, and finds himself transported to this "fantasy world" with only a month's worth of medication to take. Sticky.


Esther said...

I think that sounds great. I agree with the other writers who said that if your story needs certain elements (which you have described) then you should write it that way.

I would probably read a well written book whether the main character was gay or not. Honestly, things like that don't really have an effect on me. I take people on an individual basis, or, I try to do that. Characters in books should be treated as individuals and (having read a little of your writing) I think you will do that with this character. I'm all for the book and glad you're working out more of your ideas.

Besides, somewhat controversial stuff in fantasy writing is a good thing. I encourage you to challenge fantasy readers' ideas because a lot of the stuff we read is a little more escapist than it is challenging. There is far too much extremely traditional stuff in fantasy for my tastes. I always try to read works that sound different from the same old, same old that keeps getting rewritten.

Oh yeah, and your idea has similarities to that one writer you mentioned, but you've obviously made it your own.

Brandon Thomas said...

Thanks, Esther, I appreciate your comments. The author I'm referring to, of course, is Stephen R. Donaldson, and it's the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. Why I didn't just say that...

What's really exciting to me is that I'm back into a comfort zone where I know the main character as well as I know my roommate, or myself, for example, and know *exactly* how he will respond to what he sees.

It's also allowed me to have a closer look at the "backstory", and be better able to make decisions about what makes sense and what doesn't. The key to the series has always been the main character, and without one, it was (I now see) nearly impossible to construct a backdrop against which he would act (and interact), especially when the main character changed every time I took another look at the story.

For that matter, same goes for other characters in the story.

little-cicero said...

I've dealt with this sort of existential question through my hobby of acting; the question of whether the actions flow from the character of whether the character flows from the actions. Really the question is comparable to the problem of "Essence or Existence," It seems to me you might question whether it is necessary to establish an essence of this character prior to the action of the story proceeding. If the character is a composition of his actions, you can simply have him or her defined by the requirements of the plot.

Of course, I hardly know as much as Esther or yourself about writing. As proven by my blog, I have a long way to go in grasping the art.