It’s a Love Thang (or How I Fell In Love With My Characters)

Writers are omniscient, at least within their own worlds. They know who’s doing what to (or with) whom and why, what the probable outcome will be, what price will be paid by those involved, and where all the action is taking place. Ask any author about the city where her story takes place. She can tell you without hesitation where the seedy dives are located, where the upper crust population shops, where you might find black market bargains, and which streets are safe to walk after dark. Not that all those details ever show up in a story; most likely, they won’t. But the writer has to know them, nonetheless. Just in case.

When I put that same principal to work on my characters, it was love—the same sort of love I imagine any creator has for her creation. I know each of my characters intimately; all their flaws and secrets lay bare before me. Their accomplishments make me proud. Their quirks make me smile (or make me want to smack them silly, depending on the sitch). Sometimes they surprise me but for the most part, I know which ones will be strong, which ones will falter and where or how. I understand their motivations, whether or not they are acting in accordance with what I would personally do. Even my antagonists have reasons for their foibles.

Years ago, a friend gave me a canvas tote that says, “Please do not annoy the writer. She may put you in a book and kill you off.” While I haven’t done that (yet), I can sympathize with the idea. Many of my characters are a conglomeration of real-life people, usually (though not always) friends or family members—this one’s musical ability and happy-go-lucky attitude and that one’s philandering, wrapped up with criminal tendencies and a dark streak a kilometer long make up Bardo, one of my favorite lovable bad boys who is actually one of the good guys. Mix one friend’s hedonism with another’s desire to ignore problems until they bowl her over, sprinkle in a generous amount of surprises hidden deep beneath the surface and voila! Magdalene appears! Even people I have never met are fair game; in fact, if you see me sitting back sipping my coffee in a public place and staring at someone, I’m probably watching for stealable traits.

So yes, it’s true. I love all my characters, even the ones you will (hopefully) love to hate. I can’t help it; they’re real to me. They have to be, or I can’t make them real for you. I wrestle with showing their strengths and weaknesses through words on a page, even though I know what they are by virtue of the fact that I created them. That struggle fleshes out each character even more for me, making her that much more solid, so that when the plot bits come together and dictate that one of them must die, it’s a sad day for me, even if they “deserved” it. That’s part of the omniscient writer package. Sometimes, no matter what I do or how I twist the details, there’s just no other way it can reasonably end. (It makes me wonder if the Universe has the same problem sometimes, laying out the threads of our futures. Things that make you go “Hmmmm….”)

In the long run, the characters in my current storyline will take a back seat, and new ones (like the budding characters in a future crime drama or dystopian future tale) will shift to the front. The inhabitants of the Umani’s universe will never leave me; they’re my first created beings, and will always have a special place in my heart. Besides, their stories are ongoing, and hold fodder for a lifetime of tales. I hope I’ll have the privilege of all their Tellings.