What You Don’t See: The Work Behind the Prose

This is a character driven story (I’m thinkin’) even the city is a character (maybe). I’m still trying to figure it all out. There are a lot of characters in the book; which I have heard is a bad idea. I also heard it’s a bad idea to write a book in the first place. You’re “suppose” to write a short story then build up to a book. Honestly, I don’t think it matters one way or the other. But there have been some interesting challenges (aside from me and my personal life being the biggest challenge, and since I can’t do anything about the me scenario I’ll focus on the other challenges).

I wrote the first draft about six or seven years ago, and then decided it was a bunch of crap. I felt I couldn’t write and I had better focus on finding a job. But no job has ever made me happy so why not be a struggling unhappy writer with a chance of finding satisfaction than a struggling unhappy whatever-else-I-tried-to- do-to-pay-the-bills-with-no-chance-of-satisfaction worker? You’ll have to forgive me I’m still suffering from my writer’s blues, and I’m easily affected by what I read.

I’ve been entrenched in Eastern Europe of the 90’s but I’ll get back to that later. I didn’t pull the story out just because I had already written most of it, I pulled it out because on my really, really good days I felt it had to be told. Not that it’s some important piece that is going to change people’s perspectives on life. I’ll be happy if one: it’s read, and two: if they are mildly entertained. I felt like the characters were important, and I felt that the people that inspired them were important. They needed to be heard. I get waves of emotion like this at least once with every idea but the Prague story came up more often, I just liked the characters.

My first challenge was finding a sense of order and figuring out how it ended. I wrote about that process in earlier posts and posted about how I broke it all down into a workable structure. I thought I was ready to get started on the second draft. I pulled out a section, but I couldn’t write. I needed to know more about my characters. There is this really impatient side of me, a side that sees every step I am taking as a complete waste of time, it’s mantra is can’t you just be finished yet? But I can’t. I have to do this extra work because I don’t want my characters to become stock. I want them to have depth and the only way to do that is to find out who they are and how they grew up. Not every single one of course, some are just passing through, and like in life, sometimes people become stereotypes, but the ones that stay with us are the ones who break down those barriers.

The two main characters so far in a way are the easiest to create, even though one of them is a black male and I am not a black male. I know the person who Marco is based on fairly well. I know where he came from and I understand the area he came from. I understand what it’s like to be from America. There are enough resources, (books, movies, classes, people)  on growing up black and male in America that I have a lot to build on. I can make him be from any area and feel like I am rooting this character in truth. But there are other characters that I have no idea about their culture. Nothing beyond travel guides and more importantly, what it would be like to grow up in another culture, and not fit into your culture so much so that you feel you have to leave it.

This is where Eastern Europe comes in. Two of the main characters: Zuzana and Riccardo are from Eastern Europe. They are in their 20’s and they are both living in Prague in 1999. Its six years after the velvet divorce and many many ex-patriots are living in Prague. There are things I know about these characters that they do in 1999 but I want to know who they really are and what lead them to be where they are in 1999 Prague. Both were born in the 70’s in Czechoslovakia under communist rule. In 1999 Zuzana is Czech, since she was both born and raised in Prague. Riccardo is Slovakian since he was born in Košice but only six or seven years ago they were both Czechoslovakian. When Riccardo was in secondary school in 89 after the Velvet Revolution and communism fell Czechoslovakia had a crumbling economy and they didn’t have any money for education. In 1999 when Riccardo was living in Prague the unemployment rate was 19.2% in Slovakia. His home town was an industrial area, in the surrounding areas were a chemical plant, a thermal nuclear plant and an oil refinery. Czechoslovakia had some of the worst pollution in all of Eastern Europe and they had the worst acid rain. Zuzana’s father was in the Czech Symphony when they vacationed they went to Yugoslavia. In 1999 Zuzana knows seven languages and since the wall came down she’s lived in Italy and France, she drinks but she never get’s out of control. in 1999, Riccardo sells his body to doctor’s in Dresden, Germany in hopes to make enough money to get back to Prague so he can buy drugs. See what I mean about how did they get where they are in 1999?

I have Endres who is from Norway a culture where it’s fairly wealthy but in the 80’s they had some economic hardships- that would be about the time he was 10 to 20 years old still they have a strong education system but they have a culture that say’s on one side “Norway’s the best country in the world but don’t think you are better than others”. In Prague in 1999 he is always, always high and it’s uncertain but he may sell his body from time to time but not to doctors.  Then there is Sedik from Africa. I don’t know where in Africa he’s from but he speaks nine languages and he owns his own bar in Prague. This stuff is made up of course but in order for it to seem real there is all this research to do.

The web has not been a great tool just yet, its been more of a wrong information overload- it’s like going to the oracles and not asking the right questions. Amazingly enough some National Geographics that I have been lugging around have become an outstanding source of information and ideas. I have geographics that date back to the 1970’s which is when most of the characters would have been born- they of course have a 1970’s American slant on them but most reporters for National Geographic lean toward the un-biased. I’m finding things that a person may not think about when asking questions about their character. Like Riccardo’s home town of Košice, I had no idea that place had so many industrial unregulated plants around it- that is going to determine his family’s income the city’s economy and also what his family and society expected or didn’t expect from him and what his quality of life was like while growing up.

– The most interesting part of all of this research and found knowledge is that aside from this blog none of this character information will be anywhere to be seen. It’s invisible history for imaginary people that will only exist on a number of pages. Weird really, but that’s creating a fiction story.

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