Being an author is like being in charge of your own personal insane asylum.

- Graycie Harmon

Friday, August 14, 2009

Should We Call for a Straight Jacket?

I'm writing today on the many behavioural... uh... oddities you will notice that some writers specifically (and some artists in general) exhibit. I'm not talking about suicidal tendencies or really bad temper tantrums. I'm talking about the bizarre attachments to characters that are purely fictional. Writers, alright I (since I can't speak for all writers), tend to feel for their characters as if they were, in actuality, real people.

When something good happens to a character, we rejoice. When something terrible happens, it is not uncommon to find the author... alright, me... moping around the house in her pyjamas for days at a time scraping the bottom of a large ice-cream container for that last little lick of comfort. I'm not sure why this is, but it is.

An example of this happened to me a few years ago. I had reached an impasse in my story. It simply wasn't moving forward, so I decided to leave it alone for a couple of days and let the characters figure it out. When one character decided (of his own accord, of course) to take action, the consequences left me so desolate I phoned my mother in tears.

The conversation went something like this:

"Mum?" *sob "It's me."
"Oh my God! What's wrong love?"
*sob *sob. "He's dead."
"Who's dead?"
Sounds of a distraught young woman trying to control her crying.
"Um, Dan*."
Confused silence.
"From my book."
Sudden burst of laughter.
"It's not funny. I'm really sad!"
More laughter.
"Then change it! Un-kill him!"
"I can't! He's dead!"
*named changed to protect the identity of the victim.

Before you start to scoff and say:
"You're the author, just change the story," I have to tell you now that I can't 'just change the story.' That's the way the story went. When I saw the spectacularly heroic death of "Dan" in my mind's eye it was so clear and final that there was no going back. This is what Dan had decided to do, he knew how it would end, but he went and did it anyway. Stupid git. I loved Dan. He was a good soul.

Dan was dead and that was that, just like the death of a real person. You can't undo the death of a friend, however much you would love to have them by your side again. And so it is with fictional characters for authors... alright... for me.

Do I need a straight jacket? Based on what I've heard from other authors during interviews, I don't think so.

Now I'm off to terrorise the spider people who live under the bridge....

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