doing it all wrong

there comes a time when no matter how snug you feel, no matter how soft the flannel is against your butt, no matter how content the cats seem to be over there on your side of the bed, when you just have to give up the ghost, get up, put on some pajamas, and make some peanut butter waffles with a side of hot coffee.

sure, sure you realize that this probably means you will go down in a blaze of glory sometime around 9:30 tonight, sobbing in the middle of your bed over lack of sleep and/or love. but you know, it’s just what you got to do. our tears are written on the stars. some things are just inevitable.

i’m blaming this all on sara. a character that i’ve made up.

a few weeks ago in class one of my ‘mates said something like “the dialect was actually something kent and i argued about for a long time.” this caused much internal eye-rolling, because kent was the character in her story, one we had just critiqued, one that didn’t work so well. clearly, this author lost the battle because kent’s dialect was all fucked up and barely comprehensible.

then last week on NPR, i heard author Sandra Benitez talking about her latest book Night of the Radishes. she was going on and on about how the character Annie Rush came to her and told Sandra that she, Annie, was a twinless twin and some other stuff.

this too caused much eye-rolling.

does this really happen to people? to writers? or is this some bullshit line they’ve invented because it sounds sort of mystical? like they are some medium, and characters from another, more creative place, come to them and speak through them?

because you know, this never happens to me. sure i hear voices in my head, but they are all mine. there’s never been a time where a character i’ve written has come and introduced themselves to me. nope, they are wholly my constructs. i know this. i don’t fool myself.

when i’m writing i become more of an actor, playing the parts, even speaking the dialog of the characters i’m writing about– people i invented, not ones who came to me. i try to put myself in their shoes (which isn’t often too difficult because the characters, so far, have all had experiences similar to mine– plus they have big feet like me so the shoes fit nicely). i try to imagine how i would feel if i was that person in that situation (both of which i invented).

but there’s nothing mystical about it. it’s just me, talking to myself. there’s nobody there talking to me.

which brings us back to sara. i’ve had a story idea tumbling about inside of me for quite some time. that’s how it works for me. i get the idea, the what if. i start talking to myself about this girl who fails out of college, decides she’s an artist of some sort, and then has a bossy sister who decides for her that she needs some direction in her life and that direction has to come from the girl’s bilogical father, a man she’s never met. but sara never came to me and said, “hey i’m sara and i got this sister.” that never happened.

tonight though, while trying to sleep the first line came to me “sara’s the one who made the decision.” sara’s not even the main character, she’s just the one who gets the ball rolling. sara didn’t keep me up, i did. because i sort of want to tell this story, and sleep be damned. you know?

but then, what in the hell do i know? perhaps i’m doing it all wrong.

3 Comments
  • Thomas
    April 20, 2004

    It’s ok to have the characters dictate how the story develops; That’s why you put the characters in the story in the first place, because you want the story to flow a certain way. It’s like putting rocks in a stream to make it babble, gurgle, or even redirect the water in a certain way. We all have stories in us, it’s people like you who know how to arrange them so they’re more attractive and interesting.

    Remember, if the charaters ARE speaking to you, it’s only because you gave them their voice in the first place.

  • Tam
    April 20, 2004

    When I was NaNo’ing, I had the general idea for the story but not much else. As I started to write it the characters really did come alive to the point where I was having arguments with them. (Seriously, read my NaNo blog entries. I got really skitzo there for a bit.)

    Like you, I’ve always had voices in my head. I’d just never had them reveal themselves until NaNo.

  • Dana
    April 20, 2004

    A writer of my acquaintence has three characters with which he is famously associated. There are a plethora of other characters in his book, but the main three are the ones that have been discussed and he states that the three of them are with him all the time. I spoke with him on the phone one night and he said that yes, the three of them are standing in the room watching him. They correct him and fight with him and ultimately write their own stories I guess.

    He’s not a head case, he’s a sincere and gifted writer. He just sees people we don’t.