When you write a story, what is the first thing that comes to your mind as an all-powerful, God-like creator? The world on which the action will take place or the characters?
Worldbuilding is both about the macro and the micro, you know – you must pay as much attention to one single person in your story as you would of the city you are creating or borrowing details from.
As I recently wrote for the Culture Share column in Juliette Wade’s blog, I have this recent story (still unpublished) called ‘The Remaker’. It’s based on a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of The Quixote. My novelette basically tells the story of a researcher who discovers a future writer who revels in rewriting works by famous authors of the past, and how this can be done (and why someone even would do this) in the mid-21st Century.
One of the biggest challenges I faced in this story wasn’t creating the protagonist (a 60-year old scholar who still loves paper books in an all-digital era), not even his sort-of nemesis/antagonist (the Remaker of the title), but his girlfriend, who doesn’t appear in more than half a dozen pages, if that much.
Let me tell you what little the reader knows about her right in the beginning of the story: her name is Midori, she is a scholar on Gender Studies (a PhD), she met our protagonist in a conference in Canada, and they have a steady relationship, each one living in their own apartment in São Paulo.
She is also a transsexual.
Write about what you know, as the old adage goes. But how can I write something about a transsexual without being one?
One the one hand, this is easier than it may sound. How does a male writer can write from the POV of a woman? Or how does a female writer can write from the POV of a man?
Well, this is fiction. Period. You create a character and go with it. What you need to do is respect the inner logic of her/him.
Of course, I’m not closing my eyes to the fact that this is also politics – politics of gender, politics of the body, and also politics of exclusion, in a way. Here there be dragons – that is, this way lies danger. Writing about someone who is not you is something that should always be approached with the utmost respect.
And, as, in the end, nobody else can be you, and you can’t be anybody else, you invent.
I invented Midori as I invented every other character so far in my writer’s career: with a lots of observation, some talking, one or two acquaintances from whom I borrowed the tiniest detail (the voice, the hair color, some gesture or mannerism).
The difference, in her case, is that I fell in love with her.
She slowly became the most complex character I ever created. More because of things that aren’t in the original story (oh, the things you cut) than of the things that remained. She began a shy, almost mute companion (almost an old Doctor Who-like character) but, after an entire year and several rewritings, she blossomed into someone much more rich, complex, and three-dimensional than I could imagine.
And she will develop further yet: Midori is also in another story I’m writing, called ‘Midori at 58’. It’s a story that takes place further in time than ‘The Remaker’ and can be read separately. It’s just in fragments right now, so there’s nothing I can tell you much right now about it, just that she is older, more experienced, and has traveled a lot, seen much of the world. Is she wiser, though? What I can tell you is that is she not more nor less wiser than anyone else in the world, be it male, female, gay, lesbian, neutral or alien.
Maybe this is not the end of her. Maybe there are more Midori stories to be told in the future, who knows? All
I know is that a character that first appeared as a curiosity has grown, took her stand and earned my respect and my love. I only hope I can do justice to her.
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