I’m Flannery O’Connor and my characters hate me

I’ve really noticed a trend in my journals: my scribbled thoughts and characters are overwhelmingly in unpleasant situations. However, there is usually some kind of grace to be found in their suffering. Consider this quote by Flannery O’Connor, “All my stories are about the action of grace on a character who is not very willing to support it, but most people think of these stories as hard, hopeless and brutal.” Unlike Flannery’s characters, my characters usually embrace that grace offered to them, I think. But, as O’Connor says, my characters’ stories are not hopeless or brutal because of the situations. They are simply people in pain that have a silver lining around them. And I can’t change that pain. Let me explain –

I’m not a sadist. I don’t enjoy hurting characters. Yes, there are some characters I work to create: they come out of an emotion or a thought or an idea. However, some come out of thin air, from a place outside of me. They are like some floating concept looking for someone to share them and I am a camera showing what I see or feel. These characters are more than my imagination.  They have stories, and by changing those stories I would only be lying. I write their stories how I feel they are and I’m obligated to not change them.

The snippet of a story I found in one of my journals that prompted this essay is about an old man. He is finishing the hardwood flooring project in his home that he and his wife started. She has since died. The old man is alone and remembering the parts of life that the floor is linked to. It’s heartbreaking. I want to save the man. I want to write him a wife and a family, but I can’t. He exists now at the later part of his life. The story came to me here at the end. I cannot change its past. And I hate that. I feel for this man. I grieve for this man. But he is what he is.

Maybe that sounds weird to you; maybe you can’t understand why or how I can’t change this story. I wouldn’t blame you. It’s complicated for me too. That’s how it is though. I can’t take this man’s pain away. Though, he is hopeful. He is sad, yes, but he is also proud to have the floor finished. To have completed a long project that has lasted through the bulk of his life. I find a lot of characters like this: broken but alive and hopeful. And this makes them real. It is their imperfections, their pain, their faults, that allow us to believe them. We’re all broken. A perfect character is fanciful but never realistic. My characters are hurt, yes, but I’m no sadist, honest. I’m simply a realist with a pen.  Me and Flannery’s characters might not be the happiest people you’ll ever find, but they’re enlightening and, hopefully, inspiring.  And maybe you can associate with these characters’ hurts and find hope within yourself too. It’s the realest you’ll ever feel.

10 Comments

Filed under Daily thought(s)

10 responses to “I’m Flannery O’Connor and my characters hate me

  1. If the flooring is his life’s work, does he have something left to do with the rest of it, even if he has just a few days left ?

    • Flooring isn’t his life’s work. Redoing the floor in their home was a project that he and his wife wanted to start many years ago. During their children’s growing up years it got put off and put off and finally after the kids left they started it. However, it wasn’t finished when she died. Now he’s finished it and is remembering all the times they spent either thinking/talking about it or working on it.

      I do believe he has more left in his life. Though I’m not sure what. He’s not defeated or giving up by any means. Maybe he’ll just be that old guy from “UP” and sit on his porch and remember the good days, lol. Thanks for the comment!

  2. wacmrsl

    You are in very good company with O’Connor. I get so attached to characters as I read, I can’t even imagine how connected I would be to them if I created them. Keep at it, this world needs grace!

  3. Enlightenment always comes with the catch of depression. The world sucks, the smarter you are, the better you completely understand this fact. But pain makes us human; struggle is a symptom of the human condition. I’m doing a class discussion on Job, a story FILLED with pain and struggling. I’m trying to understand the purpose, and people say its how to suffer nobly, but Job doesn’t seem to retain his nobility during his affliction. He becomes snide, sarcastic, and longs for death. But he’s human; its what any of us would do. We are slaves to our emotions, our senses, and our intellects. All of which are slaves to the whim of God. The point made by God at the end of the book is that we as humans cannot know why God does or doesn’t do anything. Long way around the point, suffering is human, its essential to recreating the human condition through the written word.

    • Completely aside from my blog post, but, yea a lot of people glaze Job over sometimes. But, he did not take it as nobly as most think sometimes. I mean, he really tells his friends off in the middle of the book. Job is just human and that’s an important lesson in Job; we just have to roll with the punches and it’s ok to be mad sometimes. Anyhoo though, thanks for the comment man. 🙂

  4. I love your story ideas. O’Connor is an awesome author and a great person to be inspired by! Would love to see the final story! Keep up the good work!

  5. I agree that changing the story would make it less realistic. When I am reading story, I am more intrigued by those characters whom I can relate to in someway or another. The man in your story reminds me of my father. Although my mother is stil alive, my father loves to build things and work with his hands and I can see him finishing that floor as a way of keeping his mind off my mother if she should happen to pass before him. He would have to do something to keep his mind off of her and to keep him going. The more realistic the character the better; keep up the good work!

  6. Hey, Aristotle wants a story that explores the human condition, and writing about a vulnerable character enables the writer and the reader to connect with him. That’s very realistic take of humanity.

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