Archive for the Crafting Category

Writing Humbert Humberts

Posted in Crafting on November 5, 2009 by Lizzie

This is something I’ve struggled with for years: is a character always reflected in the author?  And even more precisely, is a morally starved character always a mirroring of the author’s own subconscious?  In the past, I’ve written characters who have startled those closest to me.  Those same nasty fictional beings put to page caused a widespread probing into my morals, my inner life.  But was that fair?  Is it common knowledge that a character will be a direct reflection of the author?

Consider Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita.  In “Lolita at 50,” Stephen Metcalf poses the poignant question, “Why did Nabokov choose to inhabit Humbert Humbert, a pitiable half-mad émigré suffering from acute nympholepsy, in the first place?”  Here is a character tormented by his consuming lust for a twelve-year-old girl.  Did Nabokov himself harbor pedophilic tendencies because he was able to so completely inhabit the mind of a sexually perverse man?  Metcalf argues for the writing genius:

To inhabit a pedophile—and not just a pedophile, but a European pedophile, on an American soil Nabokov had himself grown to love!—was to torture in extremis his faith in the sanctity of the exquisite inner life.

Nabokov was nothing more than an accurate recorder of life’s dirty realism, and Humbert Humbert was a creature independent of his creator.

Not everyone feels the same with this topic.  What do you think?  Can authors separate themselves from their characters?


“A New Frame, A New Perspective”

Posted in Crafting with tags on October 25, 2009 by Lizzie


Markus Zusak’s idea for his novel, The Book Thief, intrigues me.  I haven’t read the book (although now there’s a post-it note by my desk reminding me to pick it up the next time I swing by a bookstore), and I really just tripped across the interview accidently.  The story is about young Liesel Meminger, a foster child growing up in Nazi Germany, a landscape most of us are all well familiar with thanks to Night and other gripping Holocaust accounts.  But this one is different: Zusak elicits Death to tell the story.

Zusak’s Death doesn’t wear a hood or carry a blade but gets a kick out of the idea.  And while humans pale at the slightest mention of him, he is just as afraid of them.  What an unusual voice.

In my writing, I often start out with one voice and continue with it until I get tired of the story and trash it.  But what if I skewed the narrative’s perspective just like Zusak did with The Book Thief?  A room often looks so different when you get down on your hands and knees or hang upside down off the bed, so why not do the same thing with writing?  Play with the perspective of a story, and it just may lead to something greater.  And if it doesn’t, no one is the wiser.

Check out the Markus Zusak clip for the story behind his curious choice of narrator.