If I ever have kids, I’m going to be a horrible mother.
A writer thinks of their characters as almost like children.
You’re the one that created them, and you help try to figure out their problems, and you love them and care for them and watch them grow.
I have a few “children” in a short story I’m slowly but surely expanding into a novel (my fourth serious attempt at novel-writing).
I’m familiar with them, I know most of their secret, and I care about their problems, not matter how big. Like a parent, right?
Well, if I’m a parent to my characters, then I am a horrible one at that. They’re all either excessively naive, brash, or unhappy, and I pick favorites. Yup. Any good qualities they have is not due to any accomplishments on my end.
Piano prodigy? No, not me. Sweet and sympathetic?
I wish children passed traits back to their parents.
I’m a perfectly lazy novelist as well.
Other writers will fabricate whole universes around their characters and plot.
Me? I let history do most of the plot and universe work for me.
It’s really fun to do historical fiction, though, so it’s my genre of choice.
I mean, I’d put out some historical fiction out every month here if it weren’t for the fact that every single one of my past short stories of the type has proven to be in excess of three pages.
The day I wrote this article, I put a friend into an existential crisis and made another one blink tears from her eyes by showing them lines and excerpts from an early draft of the novel I’m trying to write.
I frustratedly took back my notebook and scribbled half of them out, and decided to maybe keep four or five of the best ones, the ones that weren’t too much.
That same day, I expressed my “writer’s guilt” dilemma- one of my characters had serious issues, but if I removed them, my characters would be heroes in a vacuum.
You can’t have that. But I felt bad for the character.
As a writer, I see that character as a laughing little toddler, as a ten-year-old new student in a little NYC school, a young Lithuanian immigrant not even speaking English, as a genius level composer and pianist just out of Juilliard, making his debut at Carnegie Hall.
It hurts me to do that to a character who, as a writer, I think of like a son.
Being a writer, though, despite my many crises caused by it, is my favorite free time activity.
I had two free periods lined up next to each other at school one day, which freed up an hour and a half to double the length of the novel from fifteen hundred words to more than three thousand.
I was so intensely motivated.
But then, as I know aspiring authors must do at one point or another, I created a whole new document and started from scratch (that was probably the first of like 30 times I’ll have to do that).
Wrong angle. Cut the melodrama. No, she’s in a midlife crisis.
“Black-eyed” sounds interesting.
Maybe she likes listening to only vinyl.
His brother’s named Charlemagne, perhaps.
Wow, stockbroking is boring. All those random little things get slapped down in a spiral-bound notebook or in Google Docs.
I draw out plotlines, character maps that look like the routes of passenger planes around the globe, and even timelines.
I’ve got world maps with the birthplaces and birthdates all marked down on it. I have family trees.
I have 18 different contenders for opening lines, ranging from dark and cynical to whimsical and hopeful.
And looking at other authors’ processes still makes me feel ridiculously underprepared. Some create conlangs (like, whole languages, aka Klingon) and slang for sci fi shows and books (see also, Firefly).
Some have book companions with background information that have more than 50,000 words in them.
And I’m armed with less than 10,000 for pretty much everything.
Whether or not this idea gets published years from now, I’ll never stop writing. It’s a way to concentrate my fickle attention onto something, to put down all of my thoughts.
It’s a way to create a whole new reality and watch the people in it grow, or to report on modern-day events.
And I can really lose myself in it in the best way possible.
See you ‘round the Korner!