Six LDS Writers and A Frog

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

A World of My Own

In an episode of The Twilight Zone (A World Of His Own, 1960), a woman, Victoria, peeks in the window of her own home and sees her husband, Gregory, having a drink with a shapely blonde. Victoria barges into the house, demanding an explanation, but the blonde has mysteriously vanished. Gregory, an author, decides it's time to come clean about his little secret: apparently he's such a tremendous writer that when he describes a character, they will immediately come to life! He demonstrates this first by recreating the blonde (who is only "real" for a few moments before he throws the description into the fire, causing her to vanish again), and then by creating an elephant in the hallway (who, again, disappears when he burns the description). Victoria freaks out, as you would expect from any wife who has just discovered her husband's infidelity, but especially from a nagging harpy like Victoria. Finally Gregory opens a safe, pulls out an envelope marked "Victoria" and tosses it in the fire. She dissapears. The end. I hear that M. Night Shyamalan has bought the movie rights.

So with that setup, I could talk about two different subjects. I could discuss character description, and making your shapely blonde characters life-like. I won't, though, because I'm just not very good at it. In the initial version of my first book, On Second Thought, I don't think any of the characters had any physical description whatsoever other than that the love interest had dark hair and fair skin. Aside from that, every character was defined with words like "beautiful" or "ugly" or "half-Apache and all man". Granted, I've improved since then, but not by much.

No, I'm going to talk about how writers live in their own little worlds. Crazy, fantasy worlds. If we weren't actually putting the characters down on paper, people would think we're schizophrenic and hearing voices.

As I mention all the time, I just finished a book; not only a book, but a sequel, which means that I've spent the last three or so years with a select handful of characters. They're more real to me than half the people I know in real life. All I've done for three years -- every time I drive, every time I lie awake at night, every time I sit through boring meetings at work -- is think about these characters and their stories. I talk about them like they're people. I know what they would eat for breakfast. I know how they would vote. I know what type of music they like and what books they read. (Waffles; Libertarian; Ska; Are You There God? It's Me Margaret.)

It's a far cry from my first book. With that one, the Main Character was essentially me. I changed a couple things, just to make it fiction (for example, I had to make him a little less handsome, and not quite so charming -- for believability's sake). The Love Interest was kind of a mix of my wife and a character from another book. Everyone else was as one-dimensional as a sheet of really, really thin paper in a crazy universe where things can only exist in one dimension. (I also am not very good at similes.) (And yes, I realize that paper is two dimensional -- but not in Universe McCrazy!)

But even in that first book, I grew extremely attached to my characters. You pour your heart and soul into your manuscript for months and months and months, deciphering motivations and striving for realism, and then suddenly you're done. It's like your best friends are gone forever. Who will I talk to now? Who will I think about? (Incidentally, my wife said that I'm going to be meeting with a nice man who wears a white coat. He'll make everything okay.)

It's worse with this book, especially now that I know what all the leads look like. As part of the marketing campaign, I cast all the main characters so that I could take pictures of them for the blog. Now that I know exactly what the characters really look like, I have concrete pictures in my mind when I think about them, and they're even more real. (I've actually heard that other authors do this for all their books. Anita Stansfield keeps a three-ring binder of magazine photos so that she can accurately describe her character's physical traits.) (Perhaps I can finally claim US! magazine as business expense?)

I keep wishing that one day I'll bump into my characters on the street. I'd like to talk with them. I have questions for them. Did I portray them correctly? Would they have really acted the way I wrote them? Do they like me? Can we be best friends forever?

My wife just informed me that the nice man from the hospital is here, and he brought me a nice new jacket to wear, too. I suspect something's amiss, but not to worry: if she turns against me I can just toss her envelope in the fire!


At 6/06/2006 1:06 PM, Blogger RobisonWells said...

Technically, I guess, paper is three-dimensional. Let's assume that my claiming it was two-dimensional was just another witticism. Irony!

At 6/06/2006 3:03 PM, Blogger Matthew Buckley said...

If you read Flatland, by Edwin Abbott, that whole demension thing will make more sense. :)

At 6/06/2006 7:42 PM, Anonymous AR said...

I assume it's Bob Welti your wife plans for you to meet, but I hope she'll wait a few months. I just got warm.


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