In continuing the fall theme of talking non-stop about my Machine rewrite, I want to talk to you all today about, well, as the title suggests, a change in perspective.
There’s a thing about most writers that might be a little surprising and/or creepy to non-writer folk. It’s that most of us like to see our characters suffer. Pretty much any kind of poisonous torture we can come up with, we’re probably going to pile it on.
There’re a few reasons for this of course. First, conflict drives story, so without problems, we don’t have anything to write about. Second, since we’re usually better at dealing with fake people than real ones, it’s sometimes part of how we cope with or process our emotions (or run our wheels when we’re bad at that).
Third, and perhaps most importantly if we’re in a healthy place, is because facing struggle is what makes a character grow.
Enter Cog, stage right.
Betrayed and ousted by his family for wanting to do the right thing, despised by those he now serves, partnered for life with a ninny, he’s gone through way more than almost any of my other characters and certainly suffered the most of my trying to ramp that up.
Which, in of itself, isn’t necessarily bad.
Nor will I say that in the coming days that suffering is necessarily going to be much less. Almost if not all of the things I’ve just listed are still going to be true come the rewrite.
But somewhere along the line I lost sight of that third reason, the real why behind his suffering.
It’s only now that I feel like I’m finally getting that back.
There are a lot of ways you can describe good writing, and often in ways that are very broad. For the purposes of this post, I’ll borrow from one of my favorite authors, N.D. Wilson, and split the categories into what he describes as “faithful” and “unfaithful,” or that which “honors Him and imitates Him and imitates His tastes, hates what He hates, loves what He loves” and that which tries to “vandalize His art or steal it or use it, appropriate it for some other purpose, profane Him in some way or borrow it and try to pretend like it’s not His.”
Me trying to twist Cog as much as I can like I have in the past, putting his identity in his pain (oh hey, just like I’ve done with myself before…go figure…) is unfaithful.
I’m not quite sure when I realized this. I’ve ruminated often on how entangled Rick and Cog are with me and my relationship with God (see, well, much of this blog), how important Machine has been to my spiritual walk. I even vaguely remember recognizing the connection between Cog’s identity in his suffering and mine, a thunderclap revelation that I was justifying his behavior because he had somehow “suffered enough to earn it.”
But having that view change in actionable ways, to get to how I think of him now, has been a much subtler transformation, and all I really know is that now things are different.
When I used to think about Cog, the first thing that would come to mind was him snarling. Some spiteful comment on his drawn back lips, walls up, ready to lash out at anyone fool enough to get close. As he always has been, he was the personification of me in late middle school, the one who deserves to bite because they’ve been burned before.
Now the first thing I think when I think of Cog is him laughing, smiling. I think about Rick looking over and smiling too, remembering how they used to be. I have dreams for him now, possibilities, a future and a hope. Will he get married? Have kids? Where will they go or what will they do? What will he be like as he gets older? What will he remember and think? Which opportunities will he take advantage of? Which will he let pass by?
I don’t want there to be spoilers here, but when I think about Cog now, the future is good. I can only hope when I get to the rewrite itself that that shines through.
What about you? Ever had your motivations for a project get twisted? In what ways have you positively changed and how did that affect either the outcome of or how you felt about a character or project? How would you define good writing and do you find the above categories helpful or not?