Everyone needs people in their life – mine just happen to be fictional.
Don’t get me wrong – there’s a lot of “real” people in my life too (well, not ‘a lot’ but that’s a subject for another day). I do have coworkers that I see daily. I can’t go a week without talking to my BFF (that’s Best Friend Forever people, see I’m hip on the young lingo) or looking at a picture of my adorable nephew. There are plenty of “real” people around, the variety that have driver’s licenses and house payments and spend too much time staring at that cell phone when they get text messages.
But there’s a lot of made-up people hanging out as well. It has to come with the territory – writing a novel – that people just start yelling at you, clamoring to be heard and ready to spill all their secrets, until you just give in and listen (I don’t have children but I imagine it’s similar, everyone wanting all of your attention). And sometimes, when you need it, they’ll listen to you as well.
The blank page is both terrifying and cathartic it has been said. Sometimes the words are too. Need a good cry? Write that emotionally wrenching death you’ve been putting off. Angry? There was that character that deserved telling off, somewhere, I’m sure of it. Wistful? There are many more ‘might have beens’ than even I could write down. A story, like a life, can be anything you want it to be.
But the fictional people are more than that – they’re not puppets that you trot out like Very Special Episodes of GLEE to badger the reader over the head with. In fact, if you’re doing it right, no one should know that Sophie told off Amber because you were in a bad mood or that throwaway line made it in because something similar just happened twenty minutes ago. Characters are people too. And sometimes they can give good advice, or help you find the way, even when you didn’t think you needed it.
What most people don’t realize is that characters that stick with you, they write themselves. People are surprised when I say that I’m excited to figure out what will happen next. “You don’t know?!” they ask. “But you’re the writer?!?!” Yes, I’m the writer. But I let Sophie and Amber tell me what they want to do. Sometimes they need a little prodding and sometimes they take me on exciting adventures. Sometimes characters that were meant to be seen and not heard won’t stay silent and, just like in life, change things in ways you couldn’t even imagine. And sometimes characters need to be cut because they refuse to hold up their end of the bargain.
And that’s why I like hanging around with the fictional people. I can be whoever I want to be when I’m staring at the blank page. I can do things I’m afraid of and I can work through problems I don’t want to give voice to and I can go to fabulous parties without ever changing into heels. And if it doesn’t sound right – if the decision we made was wrong or I gave them what they wanted but not what they needed or deserved, I can just come back again tomorrow and try it again. Life seldom gives you second chances but I’m full of thirds and fourths and fifths.
Sometimes I’m curious about how other people live. So when you close your eyes scenes don’t suddenly start up like movies that you’ve put on pause? And snippets of dialogue, they don’t run on repeat when you’re driving your car until they’re just so? So when you say you’re ‘doing nothing’ you actually mean it and aren’t obsessing on how you convince Sophie that Brett, not Marco, is the man of her dreams. Really . . . . huh.
My life may be solitary but it’s never lonely. Can’t be when everything I imagine can come true, if only for the moment it takes to scrawl the words across the page. And my imagination? Not something to be trifled with . . .