Writing ‘In Character’

by Victoria Madden

I find it very easy to write characters as a script writer: they seem to spring ‘fully-formed’ and it’s really just a matter of learning about someone that already exists and recording their doings. Prose characters, on the other hand, have to be laboriously created and the results are stiff and dull – I find it very difficult to find ‘a way in.’

This was my attempt to do so by writing ‘in character’ rather than describing a character from the outside. I’ve mentioned, before, an earlier period in my life when I spent time with someone very creative; and it was while re-reading an article by Flora Klickmann that I was reminded of a poem I’d written then.

Klickmann argued that most people wanted a magic wand waving when it came to realising long held dreams and weren’t prepared to pay the price that would actually make them happen. The lines I’d written: ‘The price that must be paid,/I’ve paid in full.’ (to which my source’s response on reading was: ‘Yeah, I bloody have, ‘n’ all’) came back to me and I dug out the poem.

Reading it again, several years later, I thought it might be something that would inspire others to attempt a similar exercise. Getting into the perspective of someone else’s mindset or experiences, particularly when they’re so radically different from your own, is hard work but excellent training.

To put the voice of the poem into Macaulay-like context:

My source had been a professional musician earlier in life who had, in the parlance of youth, ‘really been there’. He would recount incidents and encounters from an extra-ordinary life as I sat cross-legged on the hearth rug like the Boy Raleigh: a middle aged man sprawled on the sofa, who then, in the mere act of picking up an instrument, became suddenly transformed into the possessor of such authority and focus that it made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up.

He constantly inveighed against the rise of the X Factor mentality (it was in its early days then) people who saw becoming a singer in terms of fame, and fame as something bestowed by a stroke of luck without a stroke of work, with no knowledge of a cost, or possible power, that would have terrified them.

I have altered the punctuation in places where on later reading it seems to obscure the pacing but felt no need to tweak the words. I was pleased with it when I wrote it and am still pleased with it, re-reading it. It’s nice to feel I’ve done good work.

Chest bared for your knife, rage hurled upwards,
I stand.
Your poison swirls within you, touches me not;
you, self poisoned, fall back on bitter, secret, darts,
whose accumulated weariness brings me to the
darkness howling.
Yet still I stand.
There is a hatred within me,
greater than self
greater than the sum of your miserable parts,
that will not let me sleep or turn away, forces me
My weapons, long known, have not rusted,
come back easily to my will, my hand:
though not unscarred (this is no place for fear!)
my power lies, still,
within me,
its knowledge, hard won,
seared deep.
My self tormented self
writhes on your chosen rack
and yet prevails.

I have grinned back
at Death unmasked,
too many times for your liking,
made it part of my life, known and recognised;
been witness to
a hundred dark nights,
that later, screaming, woke me;
seen friends destroyed;
watched, from a distance, as my life
and, yet,
played on.
This authority
you seek,
deep down in blood and bone,
is not cheaply or easily won,
comes not
for the bidding of
your timid calling.
The price that must be paid,
I’ve paid in full.
My split and splintered self
creates its truth from
fierce frustrated need; insane or not,
I choose to walk this earth.

Up there, your cautious dreams
mutate into a nightmare, soaked in sweat,
where unleashed demons spit and fight;
their straddling energy
stalks across the safety of your ordered world,
stands in the chaos, re-inventing sound;
reaching for the moment when
all things collide, and in that moment form
a new reality;
sound upon sound;
pushing towards the borders of your mind
the music seeks the note that is oblivion.
You are alive,
conjoined in danger with your demon brothers:
hurling sound into the void;
nothing held back;
defying life, and death itself,
bayed on by ten thousand throats
would just as easily rend you.
This balance,
kept and fought,
for those few hours a pure existence and, in that fierce forging,
and whole at last …
This is the jagged reality of
your wistful half-held dreams!
Can you step back; and let
your high
come crashing down?

We stand on the edges of noise, bent to my shaping.
This is my world.

Copyright: Victoria Madden