Characters, Plot, People, Aspirations

I turn 28 today.

It is difficult for me to try and think the way I did when I started posting here more seriously, nearly ten years ago. I have been in many places, going through different things and doing many other different things, and I want to take today’s opportunity to talk a little bit about one of the biggest changes in my life: I focus a lot on characters now.

That may sound weird and oddly specific, but hear me out. In writing and storytelling, building complex, rich and relatable characters comes with a lot of psychology, personal work, and understanding of one’s and other people’s emotions, feelings, needs and beliefs. It wasn’t easy for me to say this naturally until relatively recently. It’s been through the seed of that idea, for the past three years, that I’ve had a slow but steady realization about a bunch of other things in life.

It is no secret that I love fantasy and science fiction. For a long time I considered myself a kid with a feel of deep connection to otherworldly settings, with a focus on the bigger picture, on the plot and scheme of things. I would indulge myself in the creation and consumption of fantastic worlds full of details, down to the tiniest rock orbiting around the planets, down to the most exotic forms of life and creatures, or the largest and most majestic ruins of the greatest civilizations lost to time. There were (some still are) countless examples documented here and in many other websites I used to visit around: fan games, fanfictions, abandoned projects, small projects.

I have vivid memories of thoughts and conversations along the lines of, “For me it’s all about those worlds. I don’t find a lot of realization and enjoyment in depicting complex portraits of characters, they are more of a vehicle to explore those worlds. That sense of wonder that comes from my imagination”. Perhaps it was because I didn’t understand that tropes are not a bad thing, or that archetypes are not rigid. Maybe I couldn’t fully understand what these resources are truly for (as a kid, I would never trust a foe-to-friend kind of character in movies or TV shows. It didn’t matter if they redeemed, they were introduced to me as bad guys and would thus forever be suspicious of slicing everyone’s throats when their guards are down. Huh.). I was not avoiding it either, it just came to me like this naturally; I didn’t even realize. And yes, I still can see the enjoyment in focusing on the exploration of a world, and the aesthetic pleasure of such dreamscapes, but I was missing a lot. In other aspects of life too.

Let’s jump to another point in time. It is 2017, find me engaged in a big task such as the thesis. Due to reasons, this became my first experience of the real world in some ways, such as being my first job. I began worrying about many things and I found myself increasingly exhausted (not like I wasn’t coming from a traumatising and depressing situation), tired and unknowing of what to do about it. Sometimes it was difficult even to realize what was the problem about.

I also grew tired of those worlds, I am not going to lie. Not because I hated them, I couldn’t simply be bothered with them now. Also, I noticed how similar they were to each other across independent installments of fiction. Where I once got lost into my imagination and wanted to escape because of their uniqueness, now I saw tropes, archetypes, and overall similar patterns of worldbuilding. Even in my own creative work.

Much like when you find an old shirt you wore proudly on your teens but now it simply does not do it anymore, or when you re-read an young adult novel an realize how silly and predictable the plot was, I couldn’t find the magic. I didn’t like that. I was not aware this was because a disconnection began to emerge between the place /moment in life I was at now, and what I used to enjoy.

Then, as it so happens with many other things in life, I stumbled upon a certain person and conditions that exposed me to something new. Simply put, I watched some movies, read some books and had some talks that connected two dots that, strangely enough, appeared to me as quite separated, apart from each other. Those dots are real people and characters. The subsequent realisations could be summarised as:

  1. Humans understand the world through telling stories.
  2. The stories everyone remembers are about characters, about people.
  3. Through exploration of characters we humans explore ourselves.

This may sound obvious to you, but it wasn’t for me. For one, it was baffling to me because I never thought about it that way and yet I agreed so much with it. I began to question why I never thought about it that way, and I began noticing things that had to do more with me than I initially thought.

There was a ‘something’, a texture about the dialogue and the way to talk about characters that looked nothing like the way I would talk about me and the people around me. For instance, my first idea wouldn’t be to root the description of a character in their relationship to others, in what they feel. And the same would go for me or a real person. Instead I would think of what they want to do, what is in front of them, and what their goals could be. This doesn’t come as a surprise when we take into account how much I’ve always cared about goals and expectations given my personal background of ‘it is good to be a good boy, a good brother, and being a genius makes you different from other kids and therefore valuable’, but … I wasn’t ready to have that conversation back then.

I tried, for a long time, to understand the emotions and the feelings of people, but I would do it in the service of the greater good. As if they were noting but an obstacle, or at least unimportant pebbles in a much noticeable road. As if the plot of life was more important than the people. Much like the plot and the world mattered to me more than characters in Fiction.

But when I had the opportunity to sit back, relax my mind and my heart, and allowed myself to start processing a lot of what I had been through, I began to see how important it was to acknowledge, validate, and embrace emotions and feelings, as well as understanding where they come from, how much they determine our actions and beliefs, and how do we connect with other people, in order to work on all of it to have a better grasp at ourselves (an ongoing thing that I’m still learning). This coincided with me gaining an extra interest for deconstruction of complex characters, either in video essays or in the source material, and in a bunch of Fiction works I had missed before. I watched Samurai Jack, Friends, a bunch of Marvel movies, Avatar: The Last Airbender (the 2005 Nickelodeon TV show), and more recently, Nancy Drew, Shadow and Bone, and Netflix’s Castlevania. I read The Name of the Wind and Berserk. I skimmed through gameplays of Pokémon Sun&Moon, and Black&White. I began listening ‘Writing excuses’, watching Extra Credits/History/Mythology, Overly Sarcastic Productions, Sarah Z, Ryan Holliger, Pop Culture Detective, CJ The X, and every other related creator. Damn, I practically re-watched Evangelion by reading a book essay on the show, the story/character of the author, and their characters, now understanding much more (and now fully knowing I really did understand Episodes 25-26 twelve years ago, and that the anime ending is better than the movie. Fight me). I had long talks about FanFiction in its many forms. The list goes on.

(*For the record: the common thing about all the shows/books/games/media channels mentioned above is their focus on characters and character development. )

I think the Big One in the list was Avatar: The Last Airbender. Still, in every occasion, I would try to put an extra effort into trying to see beyond the words or actions of the characters, to connect it with other aspects of their lives and (inner) worlds, and most importantly, out of curiosity and empathy. For the first time, I stopped intelectualizing. I was trying to understand who a person is, beyond their immediate features, beyond their ultimate goal. I was looking at them for their intrinsic value. Something I had hardly ever done before, not for myself nor for anyone else.

This, quite literally, spiced up both my real-world life and my creative life. With this increasing understanding, I rebuilt entire aspects of my long-term, ongoing Fiction work by writing relatable and interrelated characters, I grew interested in my own characters thanks to it, I renewed my enthusiasm on that story. I actually began to tell the story, by talking and writing the characters. I also saw how talking to people in my life in these terms, emotional terms, could bring out the best of them.

The culmination of these impressions and their impact in real life happened when I started going to therapy. In this sense, my lessons from therapy have been nothing but a confirmation: we cannot just try and rationalise the world, just by brute intellectualisation. If we not tend to the emotional part, it wilts away and withers, with terrible consequences for ourselves. We must realise that, like it or not, we see the world through the lens of our emotions and those of the people around us. We must have tools to express those emotions and understand those of others. In doing so we can better relate to each other, help each other, and navigate the situations in life.

By focusing on character construction and development I learned examples to understand people, including myself, in a new different way. I learned better talk to myself and to better take care of myself and others. Now I have some tools that help me tackle some of the problems that, back in those years of the PhD, I wasn’t even able to figure out. One tool, really: I talk about how I feel. And in doing so I’m training it like a muscle, I am learning a new vocabulary, I am now capable of finding words that I couldn’t back then, and I am acknowledging my emotions, my needs and what is good for me with much more ease. It is even making me able to regain a bit of my confidence, to tell apart real from deceptive impressions of myself, including positive qualities and traits, and the realization that I have intrinsic value beyond those qualities. But like, for real.

Can you imagine me talking about this, like this, only some years ago? I definitely cannot. I think this will go down as one of my favorite birthdays.

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