My guy, Cody, is a version of me. But he’s not really me. I have to keep reminding myself of that. My approach to fiction writing means taking a me-not-me character and putting him in a place I don’t know much about – Jupiter, a street gang, a forbidden love, a zombie invasion -- then figuring out how I-not-I would react to that strange situation. (Not quite the way Beckett goes about it, but I don't aim as high as he does.) Sometimes the story works well when not-I reacts exactly the same as I would. And sometimes it doesn’t.
Cody has grown up poorer than I ever was, and his family is (even) more dysfunctional. He reacts as I did and do -- by joking, not noticing a lot of stuff, hoping that something good will happen and, if it doesn’t, hoping to deal with the new bad thing. His I-not-I character has mostly succeeded. (At least, that’s my version. Melanie may well have a different take.)
Until now. In the the latest chapter, I wrote Cody into and out of a pretty cool problem, then sat back and stopped. Something was wrong. I re-read the chapter. Couldn't shake the idea the something was 'off' and couldn't work what where the problem was.
Took me most of today but I have it. The problem is Cody. He is off. He’s too fundamentally confident. Not just in the jokes. His whole attitude is off. He reacts the way I would, not the way I-not-I would.
So I have to do the scene again.
Writing is not a question of putting on a false identity, but using the one you have and asking what things would be like if you were a little bit different. I-not-I. Some writers work with an I-not-I that is better than they are: stronger, smarter, more insightful. These writers put on a metaphorical cape and tights before going to work. In Cody’s case, I-not-I doesn’t see as well as I do. Writing means putting on blinkers. In this last scene, the blinkers slipped. I have to put them back on.