Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Characterization, Star Trek and life challenges

Star Trek, Next Generation is one of my favorite shows, and my husband and I have been watching an episode every night while we eat dinner as we work our way through the seasons the show aired.  The early ones were still working on depth, characterization and purpose, but after the third year, the show got its legs under it.  I can view the same episode again and again and enjoy the interactions of characters that are distinctly different, driven by motivations individual and evolving.  What captures my attention most are the shows which focus on particular characters and their growth facing distressing or challenging situations.

Tonight we are watching the episode which has Captain Picard trying to understand why he left the ship.  As a second Picard arrives in a shuttle craft that is from six hours in the future, the original Picard wonders what would cause him to choose leaving the Enterprise when the result was the total destruction of the ship.  He is angry at the second Picard for leaving and surviving.  It causes him to question his integrity as a captain and his responsibility to his crew.

In the life of any individual, events take place which force one to evaluate, re-evaluate and respond to situations.  We question our choices based on our desires and attempt to see ourselves as truly as we can.  How we answer ourselves, how we evaluate our choices forces us to grow as people.  Characters we create must grow as well, question their choices based on their understanding of the reasons which caused them to select those choices.

This is the challenge I love to work on when I write.  It is also what causes me the most doubt.  It generates questions that I must answer if I want to understand what sort of growth is potentially possible in my characters.  Looking at characterization forces me to stay aware of the process of growth in my characters.

In the first book of my series, the main character Brent Garrett from the start was driven by his perception of his mother's expectations.  A part of me was always uncomfortable with this fact about him.  Why so driven by his mother's attempts to control and inspire his life choices?  He's a grown adult and should be past any dependency on what his mother wishes him to accomplish.  But that is only one part of his story just as our own lives are replete with challenges.  We don't get them one at a a time.  He doesn't either.  Still I had to examine my discomfort with his difficulties in order to understand his.

So when I look at my own life and consider the things that have driven my actions, I must confess that the loss of my mother when I was an infant played a strong factor in my wanting to emulate her.  And it had an even stronger influence on my efforts to make sure my father was proud of me.  At one point in my teenage life, I became aware that he gained me shortly before he lost his wife, my mother.  I did not stand a chance of replacing her.  I could only hope he would find my efforts to be the best I could adequate.

When I reached adulthood, I found that every time I visited my father, he attempted to place me back in a childhood role.  It wasn't until I had been married several years, spent numerous phone calls learning about his experience watching my mother die over a six month period while playing both father and mother to two small children that we grew beyond the loss together.  I hadn't seen him in four years, though we had talked on the phone regularly.  When I came to visit, it was to find he had suffered a heart attack while I was traveling the 1200 miles to get to my parents' home (he had remarried).  He was in the hospital and his perspective had gone through a tremendous change. 

The challenges I had gone through entering and growing in adulthood and his own brush with death had caused us both to change, to make new choices and to see ourselves and others in new ways.  So Brent had a perception of himself governed by his mother's expectations and desires for his "success."  Through book 1 and book 2 of my series Students of Jump, Brent reached adulthood and whether his mother was ready for him to grow beyond her wishes or not, he did.  Picard worked to understand the choices the second Picard made, and my father and I climbed over the wall that had divided us, interfering with our view of ourselves and our understanding of each other.

Yeah, that is what I like about writing -- seeing characters evolve as questions are generated and answered.  And evolving myself along the way.

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