I don’t write stories. Well it is more accurate to say that if I’m doing it right, I do not write stories. So then who writes them for me? The answer dripping with cheese is…my characters write their own stories. This is all fine and good in the clichés of a creative writing class but how does a person who does not exist do anything let alone write? The answer lies in between the misspelling of a journal entry or the time wasted in a good daydream. That is when a character speaks to the writer, describing their world in whispers. Like Cyrano de Bergerac, they feed me the story one conflicted emotion at a time.
This co dependence begins with the details I try on each character, like a new sweater I try the details on each character to see if they fit. This feels as awkward as an intimate conversation in a dressing room. It is when I step out of the store and quit shopping for the colors of a character’s life that the character takes a breath and speaks to me. Time is the enemy at this point because a moving pen surprises me with details I didn’t know.
While working on the second chapter of my online story, I posted an interview of the main character, Robert Dabs. My friend VL Hendel suggested that I use the questions John Lipton uses in the show An Actors Studio. Thinking that was too funny, I did it. I wrote answers quickly until the character spoke. How did I know it was the character and not me forcing? I just had the itch to start the story because I could feel the images of conflict. When I was done, I did a little more research about these questions and found out that they originated from the Proust Questionnaire. It was a writing exercise that stretched my creative muscles and let the character run.
I understand how a writer can get too involved in pre-writing exercises. This is the writer who has piles of character descriptions and setting research yet hasn’t written one word of the novel. I have been that writer, so I can say this without the threat of sounding arrogant, that’s hiding. I have shopped so long that I have found myself under the racks of character details sucking my thumb, waiting for perfection. Fear of flaws can push characters into silence or a project into the never-never land of a to-do list never done.
This is where a well-placed deadline helps…more on that later. (Yes I am procrastinating a bit.)