Writing a Playpen§
by Russell Dyer
published: may 07, 2007; revised: may 07, 2007; readers in past month: 106
I’ve noticed in the stories that I write that there’s an innocence about some of my protagonists. They’re often playful in their tone; they don’t curse or act in an offensive manner. They try not to offend or hurt others in any way. I think that these boyish traits appearing in my main characters says something about how I see myself. It may say that I’m more innocent in nature than I realize, or that I perceive myself as innocent. Not that I’m all that innocent in reality. However, I seem to retain and harbour some sort of purity — as I think almost all of us do. We’re just afraid to expose that innocence for fear of ridicule or abuse.
Even when one of my main characters involves himself in something not so innocent like prostitution or foiling government agents, there’s still a naiveness and an innocence about how the protagonist handles himself. In the short story I recently wrote where the protagonist goes to a prostitute, he tries to be very polite and considerate in speaking with her. In my first novel in which the protagonist is tryihng to elude government agents, he’s worried about causing trouble for others. He has a scene in which he stands up to the agents and becomes weak in the knees after it’s over. He also has moments in which others get into trouble by his indirect action and he feels remorse and a bit of numbness when he thinks about it. The only reason he doesn’t do anything about the problems he has caused is because he realizes he can’t fix the problems, just take responsibility for them. And a boy wouldn’t tend to take the blame where nothing good can come from it but personal integrity.
For the rare scenes in which the main character needs to be tough or at least not overly considerate, I find that I’m usually visioning someone else and not drawing from myself when writing the scenes. I think of someone I know who is outwardly tough in their ways and I try to think of how that person would handle himself in this moment. From there the action and lines flow. But these are only brief moments for my character. He doesn’t typically stay tough or cold. It’s a strength he draws from as needed in the stories, a tool he reaches for to solve a problem. When it’s over, he returns to his sensitive self and seeks comfort to that boy within to help him overcome what he just witnessed in himself.
In summary, it may be that I’m still very much a boy at heart and that boy within me is free to come out when the adults are under my control. In my stories, I can direct the characters around that boy within me, that me. Perhaps that’s the joy of writing for me. It’s an opportunity to organize the world in such a way that my self can have an edge, a deus ex macchina in the form of an author.