Tuesday, October 07, 2008

O the Sisters of Mercy, They Are Not Departed or Gone

A writer has to maintain a strange, strained relationship with hir characters. S/he has to love them—or hate them—in sufficient measure to convey that love (or hate) to the reader, while at the same time retaining the necessary distance to allow those characters to suffer when suffering is needful. Bad things happen to stories when writers go out of their way to spare beloved characters or to target hated ones.

For me, with The Honeythief, there is something else at play. As much as I may admire Pismire’s humility, or Fiddlin’ Katy’s resourcefulness, I must never let myself forget that these characters are not human—not exactly, anyway; something approximating human, yet not. And I cannot let the reader forget, either. The task is to write the characters believably, relatably, while remaining true to what they are and what they are not.

The Sister

The villains get off more lightly than the good guys, I think; in fact, it works to their advantage in a couple of ways. When the Regina murders her rivals, when Kiszoon slaughters a helpless band of travelers, they are simply acting in accordance with their natures. That makes for effective characterization, I think—I hope—because it makes their actions explicable, without in the least excusing them. At the same time it makes them, if anything, even scarier—colder, more alien. And yet the Regina is what she is because she cannot be other; and so I find her weirdly sympathetic.

With the characters who are nearest human, I have to walk a finer line—especially with Pismire. It became clear to me early on that although Pismire functions as a cipher for all manner of outsider status—an all-purpose signifier of otherness—his dilemma is, at its most obvious and literal level, a gender issue. And if he rather too readily thinks of himself as a monster, it is because he is the product of a society that labels him one, and there is in his world no safe place for him to conceive of himself as anything other.

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