Saturday, November 19, 2011

Character fracking - in this case, it's good to keep digging

I've been asked about the interview I did with Neal to figure out what it is he wants at the start of the novel. It's a short interview so I'm including it here. I'll have some comments afterward. Since I talked to him while he was still with the gang, I refer to him by that name.
Owlie: Here you are, member of a street gang, with no permanent home and no family. What do you want to do with your life?

Razor: I wanna get away from Coyote. What’s this shit, nobody can look at his woman? She stands in front of me, what’m I supposed to do? If I can’t touch her, I don’t wanna be around her.

Owlie: That’s a start. What else? You must think about your life, up there on that roof you like to sit alone on.

Razor: I look at the little lights, some close, some far. Some of my friends let me help with fixing cars. I could do that, if I got out of MF. My friends make enough money to live on. But that’s just a dream. Coyote don’t let nobody out.

Owlie: He doesn’t let people out, but Flaco got out. You’re pretty sure his family, scattered around L.A. County, hid him. What if you got out too? Imagine MF is no longer in the picture.

Razor: Yeah, well, that’s hard because MF is everyplace. I used to want that, y’know, it was good to know they had my back. I had nobody else so it was good to see MF stand up for me. But Coyote got real crazy, rivals act up and you gotta defend your territory, there’s always shit happening that ain’t as cool as I thought it was.

I just want to know why mi madre left me to MF, y’know? What kind of mother just takes off and leaves a 10-year-old, when she knows there ain’t nobody to take care of him?
Mi padre, who knows who he was. Lola married some Anglo, but I ain’t Anglo, so who was he? Why didn’t she leave me with him?

Owlie: He might have died, like her husband Edward.

Razor: Both of ‘em kicking the bucket? What, did she slit their throats? No, I don’t know why she married somebody else, but I know she left me. Sonofabitch, I was ten years old! Who’d she think was gonna take care of me? Maybe she died, maybe she got jailed for the rest of her life. Blood family is everything and mine fell apart. It’s not knowing that kills me. I just gotta know why.
I think there was more going on behind his answers, and it's important to be aware of that because he may be holding out on me. At this stage of his life, it's very hard for him to be honest with other people.

Wow, that line of thought just led to a whole cascade of things. See, never accept the first couple of answers your characters give! Maybe Neal also wants to figure out who he really is. Before leaving Mi Familia, he was known to others as Razor, one of "that gang". His non-MF friends know him a little better, but he feels he can never completely let his guard down. MF always comes first.

Wanting to know more about his mother is a very personal thing; he must think about other personal things.

Why am I different? I'm in tight with MF, but I ain't got my own cantón, my own place to live. I got women and kids, but no other family. I live in the barrio, but my given name is Anglo. I got half a handful of lots of stuff, but I ain't got a whole handful of anything. But here I am - I'm alive. What am I, really? I wanna see stuff, do stuff! I wanna take these twisted up thoughts and feelings inside me and do somethin' with 'em.

That came from sitting up on the roof alone, as Neal often does. He likes to go up at night; everything looks more alive with all the lights. Wanting to know more of who he really is ties in with deciding to take an active part in co-creating the non-profit group. He wants to know not just his family background, but who he is personally. He doesn't think of it this way, but he wants to know what he's capable of.

Always pay attention if you sense something with your characters is not quite complete. Your intuition about these things is usually right.

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