Who were you before you were Brave Flying Warrior?

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When you are writing, it’s good to know who someone was before they are who they are now. Ron Carlson’s Return to Oakpine is about these four men and their wives/girlfriends, but you also get this look at who they were as young people.

The important thing as a writer is to know who else this character was before. We all evolve. I am always interested in who people were in high school. There’s the guy who was popular and getting laid in high school, but now looks like a down and out thug. This guy my husband used to know came to visit us a few years ago. His former self was right beneath the surface. It was weird, he flirted with one of my friends, a young doctor with long blond hair. He was fifty and had long hair, was missing half his teeth; everything he owned fit into a rucksack. In high school, this was a guy who girls liked. I thought that guy was gone, the likeable guy in high school, but he was still there, beneath the surface, completely unaware that his shadow person was invisible to everyone else in the room.

Who were you before you were this person? The girls who were beautiful in high school are obvious a mile off. You can see them as adults trying the same flirting ways that must have been so effective when they were teenagers. As teenagers, the beautiful girls have only to crook their fingers and the little boys come running. The high school boys, controlled by hormones can only see all that fuel for lust. So in high school those girls who look like they’ll put out rule the school. But those girls don’t continue to rule once they’re adults. If they don’t have any other arrows in their quiver, they’re screwed. You see them trying to manipulate people around them, but they don’t have anything left. Because as you get older, brains and street smarts can be very helpful. I was not one of the pretty girls in high school. I threatened to throw pretty out the window. I’m a much nicer/better person now, I hope, but sometimes I can still feel that fighter/feisty bitch girl ready to speak out.

Ask your characters this question: Who were you before you were Brave Flying Arrow? Who were you before you Big Jim? Who were you before you were nice cookie-baking Melissa? Who were you before you were Diana cleaning the hotel rooms in the small hotel on the beach? How did you get here? What transformation happened that took you from Point A to Point B?

There is always a shadow self underneath the self we are throwing out now. That shadow self drives us. It determines what we do, how we react. We become afraid and act on those fears, but those fears are based on the shadow self. We fall in love but we’re falling in love with the person our shadow self would have loved, even if that someone is completely inappropriate for who we are now, for who we’ve become. The shadow self drives us and compels us to act in childish ways, to act as though we had not grown, to act as though we had not been to the moon and back, and maybe we never went to the moon, maybe we only imagined the moon, but there is no doubt that time has passed, we are far away from our shadow self but still acting on its orders.

As a writer, we must know the shadow. The shadow is the story.

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Published in: on December 27, 2013 at 8:16 pm  Comments (1)  
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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. You didn’t mention that we can, with mindfulness, overcome our dependence on “shadow self”. We can shower her with light, acknowledge her, but not permit the shadow self to take the reins that steers our life, our essence, the true “I that I am”.


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