About Those Characters ...

When you are lucky, your characters and their worlds make it into the published world. Often, they don't because they never made it out of the lab, their exposure was limited to your feedback crew, or your agent did her best, but the manuscript didn’t get picked up. 

But those fictional worlds don’t stop existing! Once you make something up, it doesn’t go away! Not to get into creationism, but a created character is a living character!  And even after you’e killed your darlings and deleted them from an active project, they live forever in character limbo (and somewhere on your hard drive … ), waiting for you to recall them,  dust them off, and surface them again in another story. 

Writers are often accused of living in their heads. And we likely do that more than our friends and family would prefer. But, what goes on in that head! It’s not just practice conversations about how to bring up an issue with your boss, or what you might say to a favorite celebrity if you run into her on your upcoming trip to NYC—it’s often what your fictional character would think about this or that. Kevin would love this waterfall. Mo would kill to have a baseball glove like this one. Julia would look striking in that evening gown. 

More than once, I’ve had to remind myself that these are not real people. More than once, I’ve found myself in conversations with writer friends about characters from long ago efforts that got shelved years ago. More than once, I’ve been confused about whether a person who got bumped into my active thoughts was someone from my real past or someone from my fictional past. 

And such confusion is definitely best left in one’s head!

I recently watched Eureka, a science fiction TV series originally screened on the SyFy network. It’s about a government-sponsored brainiac organization in a small town in Oregon conducting research on the frontiers of science. Robots, time travel, transporting, mind-melds and such rule each episode. The series has several forays into alternate realities. You don’t often see that on TV, but it’s everyday life for most writers! Alternate fictional realities rule the day. What if the protagonist had a sister instead of a brother, what if the murder victim had lived in Shanghai not Bermuda, what if you set the story in the 1950s instead of contemporary times. 

Often you write out pages and pages to determine if this change makes any narrative sense, making the alternative even more alive in ink (or print or retina display). And more often than not, you experience with a number of twists on this alternative. So, later on, not only are you juggling real and fictional people in your mind, those fictional characters often have a number of alternate fictional realities! 

No wonder why I sometimes feel very hungry after a good writing session. My brain has exhausted itself with all these possibilities! 


Informing Fadeaway

Fadeaway is a work of fiction. Its people, places, and events are not real. It is not autobiographical in any way.  However, any writer’s work is informed by her experiences.

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My Creative Writing, Part I

I’m not one of those writers with a closet full of journals and notebooks dating back to first grade (but I do have a drawer full of empty Moleskin notebooks of all sizes … any day now!)  My creative writing track record is a series of stops and starts.  

A few months ago, I would have told you that it began around seventh grade. But I recently found my first story, probably from third grade, judging by the legibility of my handwriting. It tells the story of a young boy who had his dog stolen and later had it returned by the police. My family didn’t have dogs and I don’t recall any particular interactions with the police. I did watch Lassie faithfully, and my guess is that a few episodes provided the fodder for this work. 

Last time I could read my own handwriting ....

Last time I could read my own handwriting ....

In seventh grade, I wrote a story about turkeys in training *not* be selected as Thanksgiving dinner. It was funny, although not to the turkeys who weren’t that athletic, and I got laughs when I read it aloud at school. I liked that. I did an encore performance at the family Thanksgiving dinner table. 

After we ate. 

I fashioned myself as a writer after that, and I started a journal (too cool for a diary) that contained sporadic patches about life as a teenager and keen observations on the world. I also started to look for more creative opportunities. I may have written the only lab report comedy in my high school’s history. It did get an A.  My Latin teacher was less impressed with my vignettes about a girl (puella) and her cows (vaccae), but they amused me to no end during directed assignments. I wrote my only play during English class my Junior year. It was called Janice Meets Jonathan, and it told the story of pigeon Janice who meets celebrity seagull Jonathan (of Jonathan Livingston Seagull fame) on a bench in Central park. It got me another A, my only one from a very demanding Mrs. Carlson! 

Central Park bench on a cold winter day ...

Central Park bench on a cold winter day ...

My freshman year in college, I studied creative writing with Daphne Athas, a Chapel Hill legend, and I returned home for the summer to fill up a notebook with angsty poems when the weather was too cold for customers at the pool I guarded. I looked at it recently. My Lord !!!

And then I studied a lot of math and statistics and computer science ...

Stay tuned for Part II.