Last week I delved further into my writing process explaining I am not entirely alone. I ended that blog with a promise to discuss how in addition to “my creativity” I also commune with the voices in my head.
Once a situation strikes my curiosity and I decide I want to write about it, the characters step forth to act out this dilemma. They introduce themselves and tell me their stories like a friend sharing confidences over coffee. More often than not, the exchange is deeper, more like a friend who has drank too many glasses of wine. This wasn’t always the case. When I began to write my first novel, there were no voices and the characters were as flat as the paper I wrote on.
In “Seascape”, Skylar, my main character was loosely based on me. In my experience all characters have their seeds in the writer, but Skylar was the character who spoke most like me. Having used this device once I was now at a loss. I could not construct a whole novel of Shannon-based characters. Not enough novel-worthy material could be mined from this source. Once I accepted my characters could not come entirely from me, I began to look around for inspiration.
I don’t replicate people on the page, but I may steal attributes. In native mythology, the Raven is closely identified with storytellers. I was told that this is in part because Ravens are thieves. And in this aspect I am a thief. I take little kernels from the world around me. (Remember my writing shirt “Careful or you’ll end up in my novel”) Once gathered these kernels or stolen aspects can grow.
I want my characters to be original and fresh, but it is more important they are believable and realistic. In the beginning my characters were flat because I didn’t like them to have flaws. They said and did all the right things; it was terribly uninteresting. This all changed when Lexie, the older sister to Skylar, began to speak to speak to me.
I never had an older sister so my original template for Lexie was manufactured from clichés at hand. She was the bossy older sister. In an attempt to challenge myself I considered motivations for her cliché behavior. Lexie began to develop. She took shape in my mind, began to have conversations with me and emerged as so much more than my original construct. Lexie surpasses normal bossiness. She is unapologetic and so certain of her own correctness, she speaks without a filter. When I pondered why she might be this way Lexie explained she keeps all her relationships superficial. For example she enjoys sex recreationally. This told me she is uncomfortable with intimacy. As I explain it now it seems manufactured, but once I had a strong idea of who she was, Lexie would interact with me. She would agree or disagree with my choices for her. She would argue with Skylar. Skylar would respond and I would jot it all down.
The more I was willing to interact with my characters, the more they grew in dimension, and the faster they lifted off the page becoming energies not entirely under my control. Now all my characters talk to me. It is part of the magic that can happen. If I listen and record, and try not to direct, judge, or change them, everything flows. I can ask them questions like how they feel about a direction I want to take or if they ever had an experience, and they’ll answer. When I try to tell them what to do, if I try to direct or manipulate my characters, I get stuck. They resist and they are always right.
My second novel, the book I am currently writing, has numerous characters. Each is very distinct and developed in my head, but I struggled with one. She did not and would not speak to me. I could not see her, but another character spoke for her. I argued with him, and tried to write out her story. Nothing would come. When I gave up trying to “write her” my other character told me she was dead. I could not write her story because she could not speak to me. She would never be a breathing character; she would only be spoken of.
I get that these characters are my creations. I even see how I have used people in the world around me as a launching point. But my characters are known to me, not as written constructs, but as life-like energies that exist inside my head. They are born. They live, love and sometimes they die. How this happens is not always of my choosing.
I began writing with the belief I would be in the driver’s seat. Now the process feels more like I am the recorder of someone else’s story. In real life I am honored by a friend’s willingness to reveal themself to me; in my writing world I am humbled by my characters willingness to do the same. There is an exchange. They touch my heart; my characters change me.
When you read “Seascape”, if Skylar, Lexie, and Mack step off the pages, and enter your mind, and if in doing so they impact your heart, I want you to know I could not create or manipulate that experience if I tried. That only occurs for the reader because the similar thing happened to me as a writer.
I call that magic!
Next week I’ll post pictures of my beautiful office and describe my mechanics of writing – including beverage consumption, duration of writing sessions, and how I deal with interruptions and procrastination.