The Mark Blog

Lessons for a Yo-Yo

It was the weekend for book nerds here in the ole City of Angels. Yes, the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books rode into town and parked itself at the University of Southern California campus. A plethora of literary amusements took place from sun up to sun down, sure to please any type of reader. Concurrent craft panels, dueling book signings and most importantly, books, filled every inch of available space. And after the day at the book fair is done, the party begins. And when I say party, I mean a room filled with neurotic writers taking their insecurities out for a night on the town.

As an aspiring writer myself, I thought, "Hey, my insecurities are just as good as theirs, I don’t care how many books they have published." So I dolled myself up and hit the party scene. I mingled with the literati, enjoying great chats with some folks I admired and getting snubbed by other writers I admired. Being snubbed isn’t so bad; one fewer conversation I have to fumble through. I admit I suffer from a mammoth inferiority complex. This usually means that when I am having a conversation with a writer, there is a whole other conversation taking place in my head about how ridiculous I sound in the real conversation I am actually having. I immediately become Annie Hall on the balcony with Alvy Singer.

This is not a great feeling, but I realized that it is for the greater good of my writing that I stay in that uncomfortable feeling. Why? Because my characters should have these same uncomfortable feelings of alienation or doubt or fear, and it is my authorial duty to convey that to the reader in a believable way. There is an interiority in characters that’s easy to lose sight of, at least for me. I have to remind myself that even if I am concentrating on all the elements that go into a scene, what my character is doing or saying, this is only one layer of who she is. The inner life of the character can and should deepen the reader’s understanding of the character. Getting into how the character sees the world is not done solely by how she acts or what she says, but also by what she doesn’t say, doesn’t do. This is not to say that I need to write pages of what the character is thinking, but there must be evidence of how she perceives the world and events around her.

So, while I stood at this party, smiling, feeling awkward and inept, I thought that this could only help my writing. Maybe my protagonist would be standing at a party very similar to the party I attended, smiling and laughing, but all the while berating herself, or others, or wondering why she was there. Characters get uncomfortable, too, and they hide it just like we do.