A month ago I posted my first ever guest blogger Faye Ling, who brought with her her ‘special’ personality, way of expressing herself, and unique insights. But no matter how unique Faye is, the strangest thing about that blog post was that Faye isn’t a real person. How many of you this will actually be news to I don’t know, but after a few interesting email exchanges this week I thought I’d better put the record straight: Faye Ling is a man; in fact, Faye Ling is me.
Inspiration for a character can come from the strangest places.
Faye’s birth story started when I was watching an episode of Glee with my wife, who loves anything remotely musical. For those of you who are not part of the ‘Gleek‘, it is the story of several American high school kids who join a glee club (acting, singing, and dancing). The themes are fairly traditional: teenagers battling with issues of identity, belonging, direction, drugs and alcoholism, pregnancy, and pretty much every other issue facing contemporary young adults. It’s very cutesy with lots of singing; there’s a little depth, but nothing you have to strain for, and the tendency is for most things to work out in the end—nice and fluffy end-of-day TV; except for the character of Sue Sylvester.
Sue is a gym teacher and head of the Cheerios—the school’s cheerleading squad. She hates everyone and everything, but especially anything to do with the creative arts. She has no time for political correctness and spends most of each episode firing off offensive waspish quips with no regard for others’ feelings:
Her dark and biting humour was such a counterpoint to the rest of the show it made her character stand out, and I wondered if I could write that type of satire. First, I needed a character, and it took a few days for my thoughts to come together. I needed a name, and thought of a pun on failing: “Faye Ling”. With her name decided, she was obviously oriental, and it seemed easiest to make her a writer. She needed something to be angry / sarcastic about—I’ve read several opinionated blog posts on writing and that gave me a topic. For a few days I wasn’t sure how to present it, or what to write, but then I remembered reading other writer’s blog posts where characters had been interviewed as real people. I didn’t want to duplicate what they had done and so I had Faye write her own blog post. I wanted to set myself a writing challenge—to see if I could ‘act’ a character like Faye on the page. I think / hope that Faye found a unique voice in the process.
I could have played it straight and told everyone what I was doing in the introduction, but as Faye’s post was intended to be humorous I thought it would be more fun to leave a trail of clues I hoped readers would pick up on and be drawn into the joke. They could then take part, if they wanted to, in the comment section.
The clues were her name, her cartoon avatar; the exaggerated tone and style of the piece, as well as some of the over the top things she / I was writing as her. I intended that the editorial comments from me, and the seeming tension and ‘blackmail’ occurring between Faye and I would clue people in and add to the humour of the piece. (I hope I would never be such a wuss in real life as to let anyone walk over me like that). I was also banking on anyone who had been reading my blog for a while would know that I often try novel things with a comic twist.
Finally I invented a Twitter ID: @fayelingwriter – again a pun and a copy of my own Twitter ID @tjameswriter. For those that followed her twitter link, her ID message is not something anyone would normally have:
“I’m not nice. I don’t like people, so if you want me to follow you, what’s in it for me?”
The ‘conversation’ between the two ID’s was just an excuse for more silliness.
By the time I wrote last week’s post Faye Ling had become a living character inside my head, and now it’s easy to imagine conversations between us—it really does feel as though she has taken on a life of her own. I’ve read other author accounts of how their characters come alive, and Cassie, the main character in My Mirror Self, and I, certainly did, but not in the same way that Faye has. I can only put this down to context—Cassie came alive, but as a character in a story, but Faye took on a life in the real world as that was the context in which we interacted. So, if you really want your characters to feel like people, and react and speak in their own way, you can always try taking them out of context, and setting up a scenario where you can pull up a cosy chair, grab a coffee and get to know each other really well. You may be surprised by what you find out. You may also find that some of them aren’t fully under your control—but I wouldn’t use that as your defence plea when the men in white coats cart you in front of the judge.
So, what did you think? Did Faye come alive for you as a character? Was any of it funny? Did you hate it, her, or me? Have you tried doing something similar for yourself, and if so, how did it work out? I’d love to know what you think. (If you wish to comment privately, please use the “Contact Info” tab at http://tjames.org to get in touch via email, and I’ll get back to you).
The full details of Faye Lings chequered past can be found here: http://thewordonthe.net/category/faye-ling-2/