Building Characters and Character

posted in: blog | 0

“You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” -Francis Ford Coppola

Last night I had dinner at a Polish restaurant. This restaurant is one of those places with flickering fluorescent lights and a chef who speaks Polish better than English. I was the only person in the place for most of my meal, but I broke the rule of thirds and ate my pierogis in a corner of the dining room where I could evade most of the chef’s positively Polish glares. The only other customer who came into this fine establishment while I was eating was an elderly, bespectacled gentleman in a plaid sweatshirt who sat two tables ahead of me. He read the newspaper. I read a book. It was the kind of scene that would have gone well in sepia.

The book I was reading is a brilliant little manifesto with lots of illustrations called “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon. I even stole this blog post’s opening quotation from it because I’m just so metatextual like that. Kleon’s book is not your typical self-help guide, but it gives the aspiring, weary, or overwhelmed creative wight a few nudges out the door of their tortured soul into the big blue world of opportunities and pierogis. It invites them to scribble, daydream, steal ideas, blend ideas, and pin stuff up on their walls like Sherlock Holmes. Personally, it’s challenged me to get over my infatuation with originality. It’s been that kind old pirate who gives you a push when you won’t jump off the gangplank yourself.

I say all this because, in the words of a friend who did the same, I’ve “sort of taken up legit writing” recently. For whatever that’s worth, it means building characters that will inhabit a fictional world I’ve built for them from fragments of the texts and TV shows and conversations and stories and songs and jokes and movies and relationships I’ve collected over these seventeen years of existence. It means building my own character to the point where I can steal ideas without a knock on the door from my conscience telling me it’s unethical. Because it’s not unethical, and the chap knocking at the door would be my pride, not my conscience. The theft of ideas is only unethical when, as Kleon puts it, you degrade instead of honor, skim instead of study, steal from one instead of many, plagiarize instead of credit, and imitate instead of transform. Unethical theft is like Brussels, which Chesterton says is “like a bad Paris, a Paris with everything noble cut out, and everything nasty left in.”

So there’s where I’m at. Eating pierogis in an empty Polish restaurant and slowly hacking away at my originality complex by writing the outline for a series of short stories about the relationship between a young Chicago journalist and the elderly Jewish artist next door. Coming at some point to somewhere sort of near to you. Watch this space.

Monolith CharacterAnd again, on an entirely unrelated note, here’s a Lego character, blended together from space
and medieval aesthetics, that accompanies this strange Lego model I built the other day.