This guy was in the Hillbilly group in my high school
Kurt Vonnegut once said, “True terror is to wake up one morning and discover that your high school class is running the country.” Alas, in looking at the short-sighted, petty gyrations of our politicians, “terror” doesn’t quite capture the dystopian menace. But I want to use Mr. Vonnegut’s subtext here to illustrate some thoughts about characters in your stories.
High school was a yeasty time: a time of turbulent yearnings, of bad complexions, of emotional cliffs, of hormonal bombardments. Enemies were defined and reviled, friends formed and clung to, selves agitated and supplanted. An overheard compliment might make you Zeus for a day, but a single smirk the next would fling you to some dark hall of Hades.
Terrifying as those times were, their living imprint aligns with Vonnegut’s terror. Or maybe Faulkner’s, when he said, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” I think we carry a lot of high school with us, for better or worse. But as writers, we have a little trick to exorcise time’s weights: we can inflict our characters with some of those emotional roilings, no matter if those characters are sixteen or sixty. Because, even if they are deeper under the skin, the tracks and tracings from those emotions aren’t really past.
And because I so much like to talk about myself, and no one is in the room to shush me, I’ll draw on my own high school squirmings as the basis for this exploration into character and motivation. [Read more…]