The fourth attempt, let’s look at the main character

So there’s words on paper, and three times I’ve tried to fix it, or, perhaps just make it sound better, because reading it in my head, there’s too little background, and too many questions.

The flow of the story isn’t working for me, so I guess it’s time to sit down and work out what it is I’m trying to say.

The notion that our main character, Graham, is a loser seems to shine through, and that’s not what I’m trying to portray him as.  No, far from it, it’s been a lifetime of bad choices that have put him where he is, and he knows it.

So, in part, this is about owning your mistakes, and it’s my job to make him come across as a hero in waiting.  There’s good in him, perhaps too much, but there is also that attitude that led to all those bad choices, the one that can get him into trouble, and a sort of intransience inherited from his father, that has more or less got him ostracised from the family. 

I want this character to be a chop off the old block, both of whom are the type not to back down, not to say sorry, and, to quote a rather apt allegory, would cut their nose off to spite their face.

Graham’s intransience led to his refusal to follow his father into business, refusal to go to University despite having the necessary qualifications, and just to round out the defiance, his choice of women whom he knew would meet with family disapproval.

And these factors, over a period of time, saw him bounce from a low paying job to jobs with no prospects, and a string of failed relationships, until this moment in time, where he was basically on his own, working the graveyard shift as a security guard.  The sort of job where qualifications weren’t looked for and workmates looked like and probably were ex-cons.

There are a few more details like the older brother, Jackson, politician and schemer, the same as his father before him (the seat was passed down through the family), like the younger sister who is a highly successful surgeon, married into immense wealth.  His brother had been less successful in the marital stakes but what he lacked in a wife was more than made up with a string of highly eligible and beautiful women.

And, no, he doesn’t resent the fact they’re rich, or that his parents were, too, just that they treated him with contempt.

It was almost five years since the last time he had seen any of them, that last time he attended the family Christmas in Martha’s Vineyard, the ‘Stockdale Residence’ an ostentatious sprawling fifty room mansion that, in a drunken rage, he’s tried to burn down.

Once again, he had not received an invitation to the next, due in a few days, and it was not entirely unexpected.

Graham has his faults, but that even, five years ago, had pulled him off the road to self-destruction, helped along by a year stint in jail where he learned a great many lessons about life itself, and survival.

The four years since?

A lot of regret, and a lot of repentance.  Life after jail was a lot worse than life trying to defy the family and the system.  There were two roads he could have gone down, and thankfully for him, it was not the wrong one.

So, he’s back on the path, a whole lot wiser, a whole lot tougher.

That might not have been exactly what I was thinking for him over the first three attempts.  I don’t think any character really begins to shine until halfway through, as you find him meeting various challenges in ways even you, as the writer, find quite unexpected.

Is that the end result of being a pantser over being a planner?

I don’t think, even as a planner, you can create a character that’s not going to change, or ever surprise you, as the story evolves.

And somehow I don’t think I’m about to change from one to the other.

Well, not completely.

But there’s more, and no, it’s not steak knives!

© Charles Heath 2020

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