Tuesday, September 02, 2008

"Ms. Author, Your Character's on Line One

Have you ever noticed that some characters just show up? Fully formed, they burst out of your skull, much like Athena exploded, fully armed and everything, out of Zeus gi-normous headache (which served that womanizing s.o.b. right for swallowing her pregnant mother, if you ask me).

I love it when a character simply bursts onto the scene. Although the other type, the shy ones you only gradually discover, have their appeal, those fictional folks who simply show up make life so much easier, since they arrive packing their own voices, mannerisms, and the willingness to smack down the author who tries to hammer them into a plot where they won't fit.

Sometimes, this type of character is a hero (the hunkalicious desert recluse, Zeke Pike from my latest, Triple Exposure, and Beth Ann Decker from Head On). Other times, it's a secondary character (Patsy from Triple Exposure and Estelle Hooks from The Salt Maiden. Once in a while, it's a villain who comes to breathe down my neck, raising chill bumps and making me want to shower after each scene spent in their heads (the killer from Head On). Whichever the case may be, I feel a special affection (or a special horror) for these folks long after the book is written.

But I often wonder how they come to be. Do they live everyday lives on some alternate plane only to accidentally step inside the (hellish, since I write suspense) wardrobe of my story? Are they subconsciously-formed conglomerates of folks I've known or read about or imagined? Or did they grow from the vines of those watermelon seeds I was warned not to swallow as a kid?

What about you? Do any (or all) of your characters simply show up? Any thoughts on the mystery of how that happens, or on how we as authors can see that it happens more frequently?


Suzan Harden said...

According to a Buddhist friend, we are simply documenting lives on a different plane of existence. Or someone else commented that maybe we're playing god, as in the movie 'Stranger than Fiction'.

Either idea is a very scary proposition.

Colleen Thompson said...

I'd hate to carry around the conviction that the characters were *really* real (for real). Takes too much of the heat off me when I can blame me weak or inconsistent creation on an alternate reality.

I come up with enough excuses as it is.



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