One of the more fascinating things about writing a novel is crafting the personalities and voices of the many characters that appear on the page. What I find simultaneously enjoyable and frustrating is the physical act of creating dialogue that I could never even imagine myself saying.
In Damen, this comes about most often while writing Corey. Corey is crass, blunt and curses like the proverbial sailor, yet when I write dialogue, I often need to whisper the words back to myself to make sure they make sense, and when a character is so unlike myself that it’s rather sickening, I feel dirty even writing what he would say. That is to say, I used to feel dirty when writing Corey’s dialogue. I’ve now grown accustomed to it and can easily separate my own voice from Corey’s. Damen, however, is far different.
To make him a character all on his own, I gave him “life” by giving him small pieces of my own personality. Since Damen is not an autobiography, however, he is a completely different person with a voice and history all his own. I go to church often (not as often as I could and should, but we’re all Christ’s works-in-progress) and I try to thank God for all His gifts every day of my life. Damen, on the other hand, rests somewhere on the line between agnostic and plain atheist. So much has happened in his life that make him doubt that a creator could have any hand in the machinations of his world and the fact that he has had none of the religious reinforcement that many others his age would experience, has tainted him even further against God and all religion. And so, he when he swears (and when he’s still reeling in Corey’s influence, it’s very often), Damen will often use the Lord’s name in vain.
My mind and heart make great conflict over this. The mind says that words on a page are simply that and as long as I don’t go around screaming “Godd***t!” all the time, I remain clean. On the other hand, the heart that helped me walk out into the church aisle years ago, crying as I went to the altar to join the church, knows that it is wrong to use the Lord’s name in vain in any context. If I’m writing it, I’m saying it, even if I do skip over those words and phrases as I whisper dialogue back to myself and thus the battle continues.
This reminds of when my 16 century Brit-Lit class was studying “Faustus” and the effect of being an actor in the play during a time when folks were far more religious than they are now. The actor playing the titular character would have to call upon the devil to make Mephistophilis appear and whether one is acting or not, there is still that innate worry of “calling upon the devil.” While I have stopped blatantly swearing and using God’s name in vain years ago, the mere acting of writing such dialogue is difficult to the point that I go through four or five waves of typing and backspacing as I decide whether or not to have Damen think “Jesus Christ!” in a moment where he is clearly not praying. Even typing that last sentence used to get across my point gave me pause.
I can’t say that I’m completely indoctrinated as I have only come to the church in the last five years and had written off myself as an agnostic prior to that, but I must say, each time I’ve got a choice between staying true to my character and saying what I know to be wrong to say, I struggle…a lot.
I wrote 626 words tonight (his first extracurricular conversation about a novel since his father had passed) and when a moment called for Damen using God’s name in vain, somehow my heart took control and I’m glad I found a better way to say I wanted. That said, I’ve still a lot of Damen’s character to unleash and eventually, I’ll be pressed with the same battle again.