Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Living Your Character’s Life by Robert Bennett

I’ve never believed in the concept of fiction. To my way of thinking everything I write comes from who I am, the people I’ve met, and the experiences I’ve had over the course of life. Whether I write with a conscious knowledge of these people and experiences or not is a matter for a different discourse, at a different time than now. Whether other writers agree with me is not at issue here. My point, and I think all writers can agree with me on this, is that no matter how we come to our writing, we have to know our characters. We have to know how they feel and what they think. Only then can we know how they will react to the scenarios we place them in.

Getting to know a character, particularly a protagonist, can be a difficult endeavor. The protagonist for my Blind Traveler mysteries, Douglas Abledan, is a blind man who uses advanced technology to move through his world and, quite literally, stumble on mysteries and murders. The problem with creating such a character is that I am not blind. I do not live in a blind person’s world and do not have a blind person’s experiences. So, I’ve had to rely on interviews in order to gain the perspective I need. Sometimes, though, life has a way of giving you what you need, whether you want it or not. Sometimes it can even provide the truth behind your world view, again whether you want it or not.

Last week I went to an acupuncturist to deal with a pain that neither pill nor modern Western medicine was able to alleviate. What I got instead of relief was something I couldn’t have expected. The morning after the treatment I woke up to a new world, a world visually out of sync. We’ve all had the following experience. You go to a movie and suddenly the film slows just enough so that you can see each individual frame flipping by. Usually this only happens for a moment or two. Eventually the projectionist fixes the problem and the movie continues as it should. Well, just imagine what would happen if your entire world rolled by in this fashion. The images you see, your mother, your dog, a tree slipping by frame by frame. Maddening isn’t it? This is what’s been happening to me for the past week.

As I sat down to write this blog I began to wonder if perhaps this was life giving me a view from my protagonist’s perspective. Douglas Abledan is blind. His world is visually out of sync. The trouble is that he, like the rest of us, lives in a very visual world. But, many of the cues that give life meaning to the rest of us are missing from Douglas’s life. He literally and figuratively has to feel his way through life, just as I’ve had to do over the past week.

I don’t write this as a means of eliciting sympathy or empathy. Instead, I write this as a way of telling other authors that they need to dig deep inside themselves in order to create the characters they put into their stories. Sometimes we have to find a way to live the lives of our characters. We have to get into their heads, their hearts and their experiences. One way of doing this is to dig deep inside yourself, to see who you are, who you meet and what you’ve experienced in life.


Blind Traveler Down a Dark River is the story of Douglas Abledan, a blind man using a GPS unit to navigate the world. One day the device malfunctions. He stumbles upon the scene of a murder about to take place. Due to the confusion caused by the failure of his technology, it isn’t until he hears a radio announcer reporting an accidental shooting that pieces start falling into place. Unable to convince authorities to look into the matter, he launches his own investigation.

In the year 2021 increasing global earthquakes threaten civilization’s infrastructure. Unimat Incorporated is trying to stop the destruction by introducing a new building material. Special interests are up in arms. Environmentalists blame technology for the problem and want a different solution. Steel workers worry about jobs and safety. Now someone has hired a contract killer to stop the project. How can Abledan expose the killer without becoming a target?

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