Thursday, October 21, 2010

Changing the Past

I've been thinking about a character of mine lately.

Quite some time ago, I wrote a story about him. A short story, something I worked pretty hard on, got published, and at the time, was very happy with. I loved his name, what he did for a living, and where he worked. And lately, he's been popping up in my head again.

He has a story to tell. Actually, I think he has a couple to tell, and--if he at least allows me a few weeks to finish the draft I'm working on--I intend to tell those stories. But there's something weird going on.

When I picture him, when I think about him, and what he'd be doing in these stories . . . he's not the same guy. He's younger, he has a different past, and a different mindset.

Now, ultimately, I don't really have a problem changing a character that dramatically. The villain in the novel that I just finished was a hero in another short story of mine. Had a completely different backstory too.

But I find it odd.

I mean, why can't I just make him a completely new character? Why does the name stick with me? I've tried coming up with different names for him, making him a completely new character, but it doesn't work.

He has to be Matt Herrick.

Has this happened to any other writers out there? I know Elmore Leonard plays around with his characters... Jack Foley became a lot more like George Clooney in ROAD DOGS. Not so much in OUT OF SIGHT.

It's been bothering me for weeks now. I think that's a good sign. It means I have a story to tell, and no matter what his age is . . .

He's still gotta be Matt Herrick.

Eh, maybe he can be Matt Herrick, Jr.


Gerald So said...

Speaking as someone who edited the previous Matt Herrick story, I think you're safe reusing the name on a different character. Lots of different people have names in common. Michael "Batman" Keaton's birth name was Michael Douglas.

If you feel you have to name this new character Matt Herrick, go with it. Only someone really familiar with your earlier work would know about the previous character. If you want, you can throw in a small reference to the previous Matt Herrick:

"Matt Herrick? Any relation to the PI?"

"Nah. Why do I keep getting that?"

Or even:

"Matt Herrick? I read a story once with a character named Matt Herrick."

"Good for you."

Jay Stringer said...

I think you're on safe ground.

Lots of writers do it, though i'm burned for an example right now.

Songwriters do something similar, too. Listening to Springtseen's TRACKS box set shows how he would spend a year or two working at the same idea, returning ti variations on the same character or same lyric in a different setting, until he found the one that was right for what he wanted to say.

Plus, whose point of view is the new story from? In real life we are all seen differently by everyone we come across. If different people -even people who know us well- were to sit and write stories about us we would seem like totally different people.

Steve Weddle said...

As with everything, the answer lies in Bob Dylan's "Brownsville Girl" --

You always said people don't do what they believe in, they just do what's most convenient, then they repent.

You write the story you want to write, that novel you have to write.
Then you worry about cleaning up later.
I do this, too, and feel as if I need to ask for forgiveness ahead of time.
What I do is send out an email to the eleven people who ever read anything I write and explain.
I'm sure you'll need to do something else on a much larger scale.

Bryon Quertermous said...

I've got to say, that bio of Herrick at the Thrilling Detective Website is a fine, fine, bio.