Trouble Writing Cesi

When I was first writing Bury’em Deep, the editor I was working with through my mentorship program asked me to write scenes from inside Cesi’s head. She wanted, ideally, for the book to include sections or chapters from Cesi’s perspective.

It was a good idea, and I wish I’d put more time into it.

However, that didn’t fit my vision of the story. I *really* wanted to keep the book entirely inside Barry’s head for reasons of narrative continuity… and because there are certain things that I want readers to have to question, without clear answers. I also couldn’t figure out where those perspective switches would come, which sections I might give over to Cesi without feeling the need to tell that section of the story through Barry’s eyes—because Bury’em Deep really feels like Barry’s story to me. Plus, I had a handle on how to write Barry, and I didn’t have a handle on how to write Cesi.

I still don’t, really, but I’m enjoying the scenes I’ve been working on recently. And to be fair, I have a far better handle on how to write Cesi now than I did even a month ago.

But I would have benefitted from trying harder to write the inside of Cesi’s head back then. I think I’m still right to keep all of Bury’em Deep from Barry’s perspective, but now that I’m writing the next book from Cesi’s perspective it would be damn useful to have more to work with.

Plus, Cesi is not an easy character to write from the inside. At least not for me.

I’ve got pages of notes on how Cesi thinks, how she feels, how she relates to other people. Many of those pages don’t entirely agree with each other, representing instead a sort of palimpsest of characterization as I try to construct the interior of her head such that it matches what might happen if the Cesi we can see in Bury’em Deep had another year and a half or so to grow up. It doesn’t help that Cesi is bad with people in a different way than Barry is… and that I’ve found fun ways to put her through hell that also involve dealing with lots of other people.

Writing Cesi around lots of other people is tricky, to say the least.

I think the next writing exercise for me to use, to explore what Cesi felt like inside her own head before, to better ground where she is now in her own book, is to try writing some of Bury’em Deep from her perspective. If I can discover what she felt and thought while she acted as she did, looking at all her interactions with Barry and others, that can give me a better starting point for the new material that I’ve been playing with, the Cesi of a year and a half or so later.

Amusingly enough, I think another good place for me to go in search of help is to talk with at least one of my friends who identified strongly with Cesi after reading Bury’em Deep. There were a number of pieces of Cesi’s life (and her choices) that resonated strongly for my friend, and the few conversations I’ve had with her about those things have all been excellent.

I don’t think it’s a huge surprise to say that there are pieces of me in every character I write. But sometimes I have a better understanding of those pieces, and of how they shape the whole that those pieces form, and that’s when I think I have the easiest time writing that character and finding their way forward through the world around them. Other times, I write these pieces of my own personality and experience into a different whole and then have to stare at this new puzzle and mutter to myself.

I do, of course, try to add pieces to each character that aren’t just me. The worlds of my stories would be significantly less interesting if I only ever wrote within my own experience. But that exercise in exploratory empathy is still easiest when I have a better handle on what those experiences feel like from the inside, and sometimes I simply haven’t yet figured that part out. Or I can feel the discrepancy between how well I understand one character and how well I understand another, and I fixate on the relative lack like a tongue probing for a missing tooth.

I suspect that at some point writing Cesi will click. There’s enough going on inside her that I recognize, and empathize with, that I think I’ll reach the point where I’m not just simulating understanding her. Or at least, not simulating more than I ever am, because if there’s anything I’ve come to appreciate from writing it’s that the boundary between truth and fiction in storytelling is nebulous at best. Regardless, though I’m getting closer with every day that I write more from her perspective, I’m not there yet. It’ll be a little while yet before I feel more comfortable writing Cesi. I look forward to it, and to seeing how she changes over the course of the book.

Then, of course, I look forward to sharing it with you.


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