Finding Character

Rick Friedman/ DER SPIEGEL

So now that I’ve settled on the classic “journey” structure (for the moment), I’m turning my attention to characters. Who’s going to populate this book of mine? And who’s going to keep readers turning pages?

I’ve got folks who could certainly serve: from a buttoned-down astronaut who now spends his time studying how to deploy renewable energy most effectively to a mustachioed oceanographer raised in the Himalayas who would like to use marine life to rejigger the skies. There’s even the man Stephen Colbert asked: “Are you trying to play God, sir? Because you certainly have the beard for it.” (That’d be George Church, who’s also been in the news lately for saying the resurrection of Neanderthals is imminently feasible and possibly desirable.)

The problem is I have no single character who can carry the entire saga of the Anthropocene. My only hope is that I can somehow weave these characters in and out of some over-arching narrative but I’m worried that what will actually happen is that I’ll just write a couple of scenes or set-pieces and then that’s the end of that character for the rest of the book. (Call it seven to 10 articles masquerading as a book, or “journalist’s syndrome.”)

I guess the only way to find out is to start writing…

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I am an award-winning journalist writing primarily about the environment and energy. I have a book coming out in November 2016 about whether the planet has entered a new geologic age as a result of people's impacts and, if so, what we should do about this Anthropocene. It's called The Unnatural World. I’ve been writing for Scientific American since 2005 and have written on subjects ranging from astronomy to zoology for both the Web site and magazine. I’ve been reporting on the environment and energy since 1999 — long enough to be cynical but not long enough to be depressed. I am the author of a children’s book on bullet trains and write for publications ranging from Foreign Policy to The New Republic, speak on news radio and shows such as WNYC’s The Takeaway, NHPR’s Word of Mouth, and PRI’s The World and appear on television, ranging from The Weather Channel to serving as host of Beyond the Light Switch and the forthcoming The Ethanol Effect for PBS. I also happen to think Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species is a surprisingly good read.