Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Damaged Goods?

By Andrew E. Kaufman

For those of you who haven’t heard me shouting it from the rooftops, I’ve just released my second novel. A lot of things happen to me during the course of writing a book. Quite often between my fits of frustration and desperation, I also have bursts of revelation, and those moments seem golden. As I dig deep within myself to create my characters and my stories, I also discover things about myself and about the world that I never knew before. Sometimes those discoveries are immediate, but sometimes I don’t see them until after I’ve had a chance to decompress and breathe a little.

In this case, my main protagonist taught me the lesson. His name is Patrick, and to date, I think he’s the one I’ve enjoyed writing the most. Like many of my characters, he’s deeply flawed. Some would call him damaged goods, but I don’t see him that way at all; he’s human, and like all of us, he has challenges. When I created him, I wanted to raise the stakes like I’ve never done with any other character before, to push obstacles in his way that seemed insurmountable—at least to him—both on an internal and external level. Then I wanted to see him fight like hell to overcome them. Funny thing happened in that process: as I wrote the book, I found myself struggling right alongside him like I’ve never done before—I had to, in order make the story come to life.
Patrick suffered a horribly abusive childhood, has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and as if that weren’t enough, he’s a bleeder. The blood disease is a metaphor; he’s been deeply injured, and as a result, is deeply vulnerable. On a physical level, he lives with the day-to-day fear of being injured, of bleeding to death, and his emotional state is much the same—he’s scared of being exposed, of being wounded. Because of those internal and external fears, instead of living his life, he becomes imprisoned by it.

Enter the next layer. With the OCD, his particular compulsion is listing; he writes the same words over and over. To raise the stakes even more, he’s a journalist: a writer, trapped by his own words. The irony in that fascinated me, and I used it as a device to show his tension. As his situation becomes more dangerous, his disorder becomes more pervasive, so he's fighting his battles on two levels.

I grew to love Patrick just as I would my own child. It happens with many of my characters, and I’ve often tried to figure out exactly why that is. True, I create them, and in order to portray them in a realistic and meaningful way, I often need to throw myself into their minds and experience their emotions much as they would. Mentally, it can be exhausting, however, in the process, I suppose, some sort of bond occurs. But I’ve always suspected there was more to it than just that; I just couldn’t figure out what it was.

Then Patrick showed me.

I began to realize that the reason I liked him so much was because those very flaws, the ones he felt so crippled by, were the ones that made him seem so much more real, and as a result they endeared me to him.

Imperfections aren’t what separate us; they’re what connect us as humans because we all have them. And just as in real life, watching people triumph over them makes us feel like we can do the same. Think about it (I’m dating myself here): how did it make you feel watching Rocky climb to the top of those steps while that exuberant theme song played? For me, I might as well have been right there alongside him; I sure felt like I was.

Being vulnerable is like opening a door; it allows people in, helps them understand us a little better, helps us connect.

Patrick taught me that.


  1. First off, I'll say congratulations on the new release, Drew! Again. :D

    LHH is awesome and I love Patrick. LOVE him! In fact, you have the honor of being the first non-romance book on my "huggables" shelf. Books that either had a story so touching or characters so endearing, that I actually hugged the book. Patrick's vulnerability, imperfections, and tortured soul made me want to do just that- hug him. Tight. He really tugged at the heartstrings and made me tear up more than once. Well done, Mr K! :)

  2. Patrick sounds like an amazing character! You really put him and yourself through the ringer. As readers, we relate to flawed characters because they remind us that our real lives are pretty darn good.

  3. As always, another thought-provoking, perceptive, wise post from you, Drew! There's something for readers and writers alike here - and editors, too!

    As soon as I finish the Robert Crais book I'm on, I'm diving into The Lion, the Lamb, the Hunted, and meeting that poor tortured soul, Patrick.

  4. Having the honor of working with Drew behind the scenes on this book, I have to say I too developed a bond with Patrick. There were parts of the book that made me laugh with him and cry for him, urge him forward, hug him (as Nissie said) -- and even want to kill a few characters for him! But, more than anything, I loved watching Patrick evolve and grow from where he was "born" in Drew's head to become the one we, the readers, got to meet and live through. This book really is an amazing story and a truly well-crafted work. Kudos to you, Drew!

  5. Wow! Any one of those "flaws" would be enough to deal with both as a writer and the character. I can imagine how drained you must have been writing Patrick.

    Terry's Place
    Romance with a Twist--of Mystery

  6. I read an earlier incarnation of Patrick, but know that any author who puts that much bs&t into a character is going to come out with something special.

    To another Andrew E. Kaufman success!

  7. Great post Drew! Being a new writer I never realized how deeply I could connect with my characters. In many ways they become as close as family. Patrick sounds like a rich and complex character. I can't wait to read about him!

  8. Tom, it really is amazing how closely connected we can become with our characters, but I suppose it means we're doing things right. I think we have to be moved by the ones we create in order for the readers to have a similar experience.

    Peg, the Patrick you read in the beta version has changed significantly on many levels. He has more depth now and seems more balanced where his vulnerabilities and fears are concerned.

    Terry and L.J., it was in fact very draining, but it always is whenever I create a character. I throw myself into them and do my best to try and experience their emotions as fully as I can. I think it makes for a more genuine and believable character. I suppose one could liken it to what actors do when they play a role.

    Nissie and Linda, it makes me feel very good to see you experienced much of what I did while writing Patrick because that was my goal. It's so important that the reader identify with the protagonist.

    Jodie, can't wait for you to read it!


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