Curses: Foiled Again

Lately I've been wanting to write in my 'blog using the voice of


from his journal:

Had phone conversation with

Expatriate Younce

last night. Brief, but good. Wonder why doesn't happen more often. Talked of writing, ideas. Must remember notes later. PS, senseless debauchery and depravity of malignant tumor of a world makes crave cold beans again...

Doubtless this is due to the really wonderful performance by Jackie Earle Haley in the movie. Definitely in the top-five best interpretations of comicbook characters in cinema. Probably in the top three. Probably commie.

All right. That's enough of that.

One of my more irksome writing habits has to do with creating characters that are mere foils. I believe I can create some really developed, interesting characters, but more often than not I end up with a foil in there somewhere -- someone who fills gaps, quasi-antagonizes broadly, and generally exists as a sounding board for the rest. (Benvolio, for example, is largely considered a foil.) It's weird to me that I'd be inclined toward this, because I've played many foils in my career, and it's always a bit, well, irksome. In fact, when I was younger I was often cast as the "foil character." Not all of these were foils to a fault (i.e., folks devoid of development or consequence; e.g., Benvolio), but they were there to serve the needs of other characters in advancing the plot. I think Frankie in

A Lie of the Mind

is a fair example of this. If you disagree, then you may have some insight into why I did such a shite job playing him (see



Perhaps it's my proclivity for such characters that lends to their presence in my writing. It's hard to say. What's easy to say is that they are often burdened by concept. Take for example Jude and Angelo, characters from two plays of mine. Jude is a Mormon cast out of his church for numerous breaches in personal behavior, who continues to believe and do mission work whilst using drugs and foul language. Angelo, from


, is a former gang-member with a dead son who lives with him in his paranoid delusion. It's as though having a concept answers too many questions about the character for me, in a way, so I feel there's nothing left to explain or develop in its writing. Yet simultaneously, I feel clueless about what the characters need and where they go from where they are.

This habit and its connection to my acting came to mind for me out of last night's discussion. We talked a bit about the writing and idea-generating processes, and in particular I was intrigued with the possibilities and challenges of creating the characters Youncey was contemplating. Of course the discussion eventually touched on my as-yet-owed (and as-yet-written) werewolf story, and talking about it helped me realize that I stalled out in a previous attempt because I had all these exciting concepts for characters . . . but no real ideas about who they were, and where they were going. Well, two of them had direction and identity. Two that weren't remotely werewolfy. *sigh* So I thought the problem was that I just didn't actually


to write a werewolf story. Now, however, I have some ideas (hopefully not mere concepts) about what I do want to write about in a werewolf story. Now it's a question of time and keeping it foil-free.

Wherefore the foil? It's not laziness. Often time I spend much more energy on what turns out to be a foil character than I do on a fully realized, interesting one. Perhaps it's a problem with my perception of structure in a given story. It's true that I've never outlined a plot in my life; the closest I ever come to that is when I somehow know where I want the whole thing to end up. Writing is improvisation to me, or (perhaps more accurately) like just such a conversation as I had last night -- ideas piling up, going exploring down one path or another, accepting everything I can and using it as best I can. It's funny. Younce will continually make claims to not being a writer, yet the very stockpiling of ideas we do equates to the writing process for me. It isn't the same, of course. I take for granted whatever actual writing skills and instincts I may have acquired over the years. Yet that idea-hashing, that collaborative energy, that's what keeps me writing. That's what I really love about it.

When I was a teenager I was quite obsessed with my writing voice, and unique little turns of phrases. Early teachers of mine would kindly describe my prose as being "poetically dense." Thankfully I've rescinded my former enthusiasm for linguistic frippery and syntax of a winding and convoluted manner, the which is not dissimilar from a verbal slalom track (not to mention [since it bears repeating] a certain appreciation for [parenthetical] asides). But seriously: When I was a teenager, it was even worse. Now I value a certain amount of clarity and efficiency in my writing (not too [too] much, mind). Similarly, I want to make efficient stories, with necessary characters, not just cool concepts and dramatic tensions. That's the mysterious quality of really amazing stories, for me: structure. Lean, mean and beautifully functional.

Something made of steel, rather than foil.